It was described as more of a State of the Nation address than a budget speech.
Pravin Gordhan was due to appear in court on criminal charges within just a few days. But there was also the important business of managing the country’s finances. He was ready to begin his medium-term budget speech in Parliament. But he was made to wait.
He stood, patiently, a small smile playing on his lips as he acknowledged the standing ovation from the members in the House. All of them — notably too, those in red overalls.
And for months thereafter, Julius Malema continued to defend Gordhan.
When Gordhan tabled the 2017 budget, Malema said his party might not agree with the minister on everything but Gordhan, he said, deserved a standing ovation for standing up to corruption in government.
“If there is only one person who’s giving some form of hope for our people, we must be able to support that person and Pravin comes across as such an individual who’s a unifier, who’s seeking good for our country,” Malema told broadcaster eNCA in February 2017.
A year later, Malema was standing outside the venue where Gordhan was testifying before the commission of inquiry into state capture.
“An attack on Pravin is an attack on white monopoly capital, Pravin is a dog of white monopoly capital. We must hit the dog until the owner comes out,” he said.
It is an extraordinary shift that can only be compared with the shift in Malema’s sentiments regarding Jacob Zuma, whom he once vowed to kill for, but later would prove to be the former president’s most vociferous detractor.
In June this year, Malema and other Economic Freedom Fighters leaders launched a co-ordinated attack on the treasury. Their intended target emerged as Gordhan, who, as public enterprises minister, is leading the clean-up of state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
The campaign against Gordhan then expanded. The party’s chief whip and deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, was the first to lead the charge in Parliament when he criticised a treasury deputy director general, Ismail Momoniat, alleging that he did not want to take orders from black African seniors.
Thus began the EFF’s campaign against a “cabal” in government. The party then focused its attention on then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, and Malema claimed that Nene was the most “overpraised and celebrated” minister in the Cabinet. The EFF leader claimed that the party had evidence that incriminated Nene and that his activities when he was deputy finance minister and chairperson of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) had “bordered on corruption”.
Nene’s fate was sealed after he appeared before the Zondo commission and admitted to have met with the controversial Gupta family on several occasions, meetings he had never disclosed before.
Days later, the Mail & Guardian and amaBunghane revealed that Nene had faced a conflict of interest at the PIC because his son’s business partner was paid consulting fees on an oil contract in Mozambique while Nene was chairperson of the SOE.
Nene subsequently resigned.
The EFF then claimed that individuals in Gordhan’s camp had been protecting Nene even though they were aware of his “shenanigans”.
In their attacks, Malema and his party continued to claim Gordhan had brought a “reign of terror” to the SOEs as senior executives were being fired or forced out.
It has since become clear that the EFF has formed a loose alliance with some of the individuals implicated in the mismanagement of SOEs in the Zuma administration, such as former Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama and PIC chairperson Dan Matjila.
The EFF also defended former South African Revenue Services (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane when he faced a disciplinary hearing and a commission of inquiry.
Moyane was fired by President Cyril Ramaphosa following recommendations by the Nugent commission into Sars. Malema has previously claimed that his tax issues with Sars were an attempt by Gordhan to destroy him.
Earlier this month, Shivambu wrote a list of 33 questions in which he suggested irregular, unlawful and criminal activities by Gordhan during his tenure as Sars commissioner. In the letter, Shivambu asked Gordhan a number of questions in relation to the establishment of an intelligence gathering unit and its role in the “Zuma spy tapes”.
He also asked Gordhan about his family members and whether they were linked to any accounts and businesses in Canada.
This week, EFF leaders claimed that Gordhan’s daughter had benefited from state tenders worth millions.
Gordhan hit back during his testimony at the state capture inquiry, saying his daughter’s directorships were a result of her representing her employer, Investec, as a nonexecutive director on the boards. She had not benefited financially, he said. Neither he nor his daughter had bank accounts in Canada, he added.
But the lack of proof for their allegations has not stopped the EFF’s public pronouncements on Gordhan. Instead, the corruption track record of EFF leaders has been questioned after the explosive VBS Mutual Bank report was released, which found that Shivambu’s younger brother Brian had received “gratuitous” payments totalling R16-million from the bank.
The M&G also reported how Shivambu provided a bank account of a company called Grand Azania to a businessperson at the centre of a PIC investigations. Grand Azania is a company solely owned by Brian Shivambu.
The M&G also revealed how one of Brian Shivambu’s companies, Sgameka, had made payments of more than R5-million to Mahuna Investments, a company owned by Malema’s cousin, Matsobane Phelang. Malema claimed to have no knowledge of the payments.
Then the Daily Maverick revealed this week how a Sandhurst home was bought in the EFF’s name with VBS money, directly linking the EFF to VBS money. EFF leaders said the story was false.
Unwittingly or not, it has become the public voice of a faction of the ANC that has been forced into submission under the guise of “unity”. In this way the EFF has been able to birth itself anew, outside of its raison d’être, Zuma.
Two years ago, it was Floyd Shivambu who would point out the sullen faces of four ministers, said to be loyal to Zuma, while the rest of the National Assembly cheered on Gordhan. Then, as now, it’s the EFF that stands to benefit most, as Gordhan remains a figure to rally around, or against.