The plot against Pravin Gordhan has backfired

The alleged plot by President Jacob Zuma’s supporters to get rid of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan appears to have backfired, as  more leaders in and outside the ANC condemned the decision of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to charge Gordhan.

The Mail & Guardian this week interviewed more than 10 alliance leaders, including current national executive committee (NEC) members and Cabinet ministers, who openly threw their weight behind Gordhan. They also vowed to join other South Africans on November 2 to show support for the embattled finance minister when he appears in court on charges of fraud.

With the ANC president becoming increasingly isolated, political observers believe the anti-Zuma faction in the party may use Gordhan’s court appearance to force him to step down as the country’s president.

It is also seen as an opportunity for supporters of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to launch his campaign to succeed Zuma as ANC president in 2017.

Zuma is believed to prefer his ex-wife and African Union Commission chair  Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next party president. She also enjoys support from the ANC’s youth and women’s leagues.

But the perceived victimisation of Gordhan could work against the pro-Zuma faction in the same way the perceived victimisation of Zuma worked against former president Thabo Mbeki after he fired Zuma as the country’s deputy president in 2005.

Then, Zuma was implicated in a corruption case relating to the arms deal. At the time, Zuma supporters also blamed the Mbeki regime for “concocting” rape charges against Zuma. The Zuma faction used both the corruption and the rape trials to rally support behind him.

Ironically, 11 years down the line Zuma is now being accused of abusing state resources to target his political opponents in the ANC and the government.

ANC national executive committee member and Deputy Minister of Health Joe Phaahla implied this week that Zuma was using NPA head Shaun Abrahams and the Hawks to get rid of Gordhan.

“It’s a shame [the charges against Gordhan]. [What’s happening now] is not different to what happened in 2003, when the NPA said they have a [prima facie] case [against Zuma] but it was not winnable in court.

“This thing does not have credibility. I have no doubt in my mind that somebody has put pressure on Abrahams. This is about getting rid of Pravin,” said Phaahla, without mentioning Zuma or anyone else by name.

Former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa said Zuma, but not Gordhan, should step down.

The M&G understands that most senior ANC leaders who attended its NEC meeting last week were of the view that there was no need for Gordhan to step down, even after he was charged with fraud.

Some, however, said Gordhan should resign from the Cabinet, in line with the party’s 2012 Mangaung conference resolution compelling members who hold key positions in the government and the ANC to step down when they are convicted of a crime or when they face serious allegations.

Phaahla said there was nothing criminal about what Gordhan did and that it could have been an administrative misdemeanour.

“We [the ANC] said, if comrades faces serious allegations, the issues must be taken to the integrity commission. We can’t [have] a policy where people can [use it to] settle scores.”

He said the Gordhan case must be presented to the committee and, if it is found to be harming the ANC, then action must be taken. “But there is no such suggestion [that Gordhan’s case is damaging to the organisation],” said Phaahla.

Some of those who want Gordhan out of the government have accused the treasury of, under his leadership, being against the transformation of the economy and the empowerment of black people.

But there’s another school of thought that suggests that the move to charge Gordhan was nothing but a strategy by the Zuma faction to benefit his own court battles.

If the Supreme Court of Appeal upholds the high court ruling — which set aside the decision by former acting prosecutions head Mokotedi Mpshe to drop charges against Zuma — the president may not be forced to step down if a precedent has already been set by Gordhan staying in office, despite facing serious charges.

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