Pravin Gordhan’s mettle to be tested

The country breathed a collective sigh of relief this week when President Jacob Zuma reinstalled Pravin Gordhan as the finance minister.

Gordhan’s press conference, organised less than 24 hours after his reappointment, could not have been more different than the brief statement given by his short-lived predecessor, Des van Rooyen. Gordhan was flanked by his director general, Lungisa Fuzile, the Reserve Bank governor, Lesetja Kganyago, and Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas.

The only thing that separated it from being a replica of a budget briefing was the absence of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner, Tom Moyane.

Despite the relative calm that this united front returned to the economy, it remains to be seen whether Gordhan will be able to achieve what Nene was trying to when he was so unceremoniously fired.

Just days before his axing, Nene had refused to sign off on a deal at SAA, which had been restructured by its board, chaired by Dudu Myeni, citing wider financial risks to the government. Nene also emphasised the importance of properly assessing the affordability of the government’s nuclear procurement ambitions.

Gordhan also has to deal with the controversy surrounding the alleged operations of an investigative unit in Sars which he has publicly defended.

At the press briefing, he was scathing of the media coverage of the Sars, unit, which he called “reporting on rumours and cooking up things”.

In the wake of the controversy, long-serving officials have left Sars.

South Africans should be very worried about attacks on the credibility of institutions such as Sars, the treasury and the Reserve Bank, Gordhan said, because the damage affected “generations to come”.

He said those who view state-owned entities as their “personal toy from which you can extract money when you feel like” could not longer do so.


Alan Hirsch, the director of the graduate school of development policy and practice at the University of Cape Town, said the proof would be in what kind of decisions were taken over procurement plans such as the nuclear deal. It would be critical to see whether “the finance minister is going to be able to prevent bad decisions from being made”, he said.

Gordhan confirmed that there would be a formal procurement process for nuclear power, but he stressed that the country “can’t spend money we don’t have”.

Nene’s summary dismissal and Van Rooyen’s appointment sparked worry that the position of the internationally respected treasury would be significantly weakened. Speculation immediately began that Fuzile would leave the department, possibly precipitating the departure of other senior staff.

With Gordhan’s reappointment, the expectation is that the treasury’s position will be shored up.

Ralph Mathekga, the head of political economy at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, said Gordhan had battled in the past to get the government to institute spending cuts. Mathekga gave the example of how former North West premier Thandi Modise bought an expensive BMW, in defiance of an instruction by Gordhan to the government in 2013 while he was finance minister, to limit costly vehicle purchases.

But, Mathekga said, this time around Gordhan was operating in a environment “that allows him to be more firm”. Zuma’s loss of credibility meant he “will be licking wounds”.

“Unlike Nene … Pravin is presiding at the treasury at a time when the president can no longer be seen to be blocking or frustrating the treasury.”

Political analyst Nic Borain said Gordhan was an “excellent finance minister” and, given that he was backed by whoever had ultimately overruled Zuma, suggested he was the most powerful finance minister South Africa had ever had.

The attack on his integrity through the “smear campaign” on Sars suggested that Gordhan was not going to be a “pliant or compliant” minister, said Borain.

On Wednesday, according to a report by the Daily Maverick, the Sunday Times was sanctioned by the press ombud for its coverage of the Sars unit, in particular over a story published in October that called for an investigation of Gordhan about the unit’s operations. The Sunday Times is appealing the ruling.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.
Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members
Advertising

Press Releases

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday