President Ramaphosa’s Gordhan headache
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Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa is stuck between a rock and a hard place as unions, political parties and broader society want Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to fall on his sword for being part of an Eskom grouping that allegedly misled the president on the status of load shedding in the country.
Former Eskom board chairperson Jabu Mabuza resigned last week.
Experts say Ramaphosa is now faced with the task of firing Gordhan, who was reportedly a central figure in helping him secure R1 billion worth of funding for his CR17 campaign which led to him taking over the reins of the ANC at the party’s 54th elective conference at Nasrec, Soweto, in 2017.
EFF leader Julius Malema has demanded that Ramaphosa choose between Gordhan and the people of South Africa - or face the wrath of the party at the next State of the Nation Address (SONA), scheduled for February 13.
Before the ANC’s 108th birthday celebration in Kimberley in the Northern Cape on Saturday, Deputy President David Mabuza fired a salvo, accusing Gordhan and the Eskom board of misleading Ramaphosa when they said that load shedding would only resume after January 13 as there had been rolling blackouts earlier this month.
With the country now looking forward to Sona and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech in which they are both expected to announce future plans for the ailing power utility, the pressure is mounting on Ramaphosa to act swiftly on Gordhan.
Economist Dawie Roodt said that given Ramaphosa and Gordhan’s close relationship, he did not expect Ramaphosa to axe Gordhan. “There’s a lot of opposition against him in government and I think Ramaphosa would like to keep people on his side in the Cabinet as much as he can, and I don’t think the president would want Gordhan to go,” Roodt said.
Following Mabuza’s resignation, Cosatu called for the dissolution of the entire Eskom board with the union’s leader, Zingiswa Losi, saying workers were happy to see Mabuza leave the embattled power utility.
“Since August last year, Cosatu has been calling for the entire board of Eskom to step down. We are saying to the rest of the board, do the honorable thing and tender your resignation and follow suit,” Losi said.
Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali also weighed in on the matter, saying the Eskom had failed. University of SA Professor Boitumelo Senokoane said the influence of Gordhan on Ramaphosa was too strong, and that the president would back Gordhan at all costs, even to the detriment of his political longevity.
Last year, it was revealed that Gordhan was at the centre of the fundraising of the CR17 campaign, which resulted in Ramaphosa being elected as president of the ANC. The campaign is the subject of an investigation by the Public Protector.
University of the Western Cape Professor Bheki Mgomezulu said Ramaphosa “has said a lot but done very little” in dealing with issues at Eskom. University of Zululand Professor Sipho Seepe believes that Ramaphosa owes Gordhan “big time”.
Energy expert Chris Yelland said for the time being, with Eskom going through a tumultuous phase, it would be best to leave Gordhan in the public enterprises ministry.