Ministers must admit wrongs, be honest and stop misleading the poor, says Gordhan

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan has criticised a minister for not having the humility to admit her wrongs and accused another minister of misleading the poor.

Speaking in Pretoria on Wednesday, during the first of four memorials set to take place this week in honour of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada, Gordhan told a packed hall that people like Kathrada were from a generation to whom humility came naturally.

Without naming Social Security Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Gordhan insinuated that as a leader, she needed to stop telling lies and admit that she had dropped the ball.

“I never ever attack a colleague in public, as a matter of principle, but I’m going to break that now because there is a limit to the lies that one must tolerate,” Gordhan said.

“One must have the humility, the courage and the sensibility to say, ‘honestly, I didn’t keep an eye on this ball, there’s a mistake that was made’.” 

“Don’t blame the CEO of Sassa, the poor chap, or blame the national treasury … leaving 17-million people in anxiety,” he said to applause from the crowd.

‘Your conscience should guide you’
He said the way Kathrada and the other Rivonia trialists responded to questions from the prosecutor and judge at the time showed that they possessed “humility and respect on one hand but uncompromising steadfastness on the other hand for what is true”.

He said it was a common assumption that to be a politician one had to be a liar.

“That’s not necessarily the case. There is a thing that you can learn from this generation and many others, that there is a thing called principled politics where your conscience should guide you in terms of what is right and what is wrong.”

Gordhan then laid into Nomvula Mokonyane, minister of water and sanitation, also without calling her by name.

He tackled her on her comments on Tuesday night at an ANC Youth League rally in Germiston.

Ratings ‘political’
She criticised international ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for its decision to downgrade South Africa’s economy to junk status‚ saying “the West can’t dictate to us” and said investors were like window shoppers and that the ANC was still in power.

“The problems you see now are not a reflection of an unstable ANC …These junk ratings have nothing to do with financial ratings. It’s political ratings.”

She then told supporters: “The rand falls. It fell in apartheid and we will pick it up again now.”

Gordhan said such statements only serve to mislead the poor.

“So there is this new phenomenon which says ‘you see the rand can fall, all you have to do is pick it up’,” Gordhan said, demonstrating with a pen which he dropped then picked up again.

“That is misleading the poor, because if that rand really moves in the wrong direction, as it did when [former finance minister Nhlanhla] Nene lost his job for the wrong reasons, then there are huge consequences for your pension benefits, for your pension funds, for the prices that we have to pay in South Africa, for the price that we’ll have to import oil into South Africa to make diesel and petrol.

“All of that is going to ultimately affect the lower middle classes and the poor of this country and that’s the truth that they need to in fact be told,” he said.

Anti-Zuma marches
Mokonyane told the youth league that those who applauded when Zuma was criticised at Kathrada’s funeral on Wednesday were being dealt with.

The ruling party is facing an unparalleled revolt with calls for Zuma to step down coming from within the party, including from prominent stalwarts and alliance partners the South African Communist Party and labour federation Cosatu, who were pivotal in Zuma’s initial campaign for presidency in 2009 and again in 2014.

Opposition parties, civil society, religious leaders and unions have also planned anti-Zuma protests.

Gordhan took another jab at Mokonyane’s statements, saying those who spoke out from within the party were now believed to be part of a conspiracy.

“We are also told that if we speak up then we are engaging in some conspiracy. Now we cannot allow South Africa to step into that mould. If you are a democracy, you have a democratic right to voice a diversity of views, whether we like it or not, and you’ve got to listen to those views.”

‘A democrat at heart’

Gordhan then turned his attention the president, saying any good leader would have listened to the sound advice before making any major decisions.

This came after the ANC’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize expressed their disapproval of Zuma’s decision to remove Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas.

Gordhan said it was important for people to remember the political values that stalwarts such as Kathrada embodied throughout their own lives.

“He was a democrat at heart,” Gordhan said.

“And democratic practice means I must allow everybody to have their say, ‘I must listen to what the majority has got to say, I must account for what I do and I must consult on the way in which I make decisions, particularly if I hold a leadership position’.

“But above all, it means remember the Constitution, remember the rule of law. We can’t disrespect that Constitution.”

Time for reflection
Gordhan added that Kathrada himself had always believed in speaking truth to power and did so with former president and fellow Rivonia trialist Nelson Mandela.

“As his famous letter indicates, he also believed in ensuring that even great leaders like Nelson Mandela required advice and required to be shown ‘the truth’ from time to time, or frankly given a set of opinions that they must take into account before they make certain decisions.

“And leaders have that obligation to actually remember the kind of advice that is given, before they make decisions.

“Being in an authoritative position doesn’t mean you can abuse that power, it doesn’t mean you can impose injustice whenever you feel like, however you feel like.”

Gordhan said a lot had happened in South Africa in the last 10 days and urged citizens to take time and carefully digest where the country was at the moment.

He then urged people to ask themselves what they could learn from Kathrada’s life that would guide the country through this period which had “generated such passion and concern and activism among us ordinary South Africans”. – News24

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