The fate of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan will be determined this weekend when the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meets to discuss the condition of the country’s ailing state-owned companies.
According to two senior party sources, the NEC meeting, purporting to be about the electricity and debt crisis at Eskom, will act as
the theatre for the removal of Gordhan.
He has been under attack from within the governing party and outside, specifically for his powerful role as the shareholder representative for most state-owned enterprises (SOE).
The meeting is also seen as a new front opened against President Cyril Ramaphosa by a regrouped Jacob Zuma faction, who sense a weakness in the president’s stewardship of the economy, particularly the near collapse of critical state-owned enterprises.
A close ally of Ramaphosa and the man tasked with grappling with the SOE crisis, Gordhan is a convenient lightning rod for Ramaphosa’s detractors.
But the minister is also a target, independently of Ramaphosa, because of the role he has played in disrupting state capture and other grand corruption schemes.
Calls for Gordhan’s removal — or at least to transfer oversight of Eskom from him to Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe — intensified in the new year after Eskom broke a promise made to South Africans and Ramaphosa to discontinue load-shedding until January 13.
The broken promise saw Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza resign last week after apologising to Ramaphosa and South Africans. This took place after deputy president David Mabuza told the media, on the sidelines of the ANC’s door-to-door campaigns ahead of its January 8 anniversary celebrations in the Northern Cape last week, that Eskom had misled Ramaphosa.
This “new approach” to get rid of Gordhan came in the guise of complaints that he had failed to successfully manage the direction of state-owned companies.
But those in support of Gordhan have said that the minister in charge of SOEs is going nowhere.
The calls for a new approach came from senior members of the faction that lost to Ramaphosa at the ANC elective conference in 2017. Former social development minister and current ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini called for Eskom to be placed under the department of energy. Her calls were echoed by ANC secretary general (SG) and former president Jacob Zuma ally Ace Magashule, as well as ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile.
An insider with close links to David Mabuza said the realignment in the NEC has essentially left Ramaphosa and Mantashe isolated and moves to push Gordhan out would gain more momentum now that Jabu Mabuza had resigned.
“It makes it easy for NEC members to ask why, if Mabuza’s resignation was accepted, his political principal is allowed to remain,” said the source. “That realignment is now complete because [DD] Mabuza is also supporting calls for Gordhan’s removal. This means that Cyril will be left with Gwede Mantashe as his only real ally.
“This basically means the Premier League is back, but now no longer centred around Jacob Zuma. You could even say they’ve dumped Zuma and [Ramaphosa] and are now looking to craft a compromise leadership that will accommodate all of them to stand against Cyril.”
“[Mantashe] is being pushed to the periphery because people who were unhappy about his involvement in the Siyenza toilet scandal are not scared to speak openly now that he is no longer SG.”
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe confirmed that the NEC will meet over the weekend in preparation of the ANC lekgotla, which will sit for two days next week.
“The NEC will sit between tomorrow [Friday, January 17] and Saturday, but it will first start with the national working committee meeting. Amongst other things it [the NEC] will prepare and set the scene for the two day ANC lekgotla which sits on the 19th and 20th.
“Key to the issues to be discussed is the state of our state-owned enterprises to make sure that we take stock of the work of our SOEs as guided by our 54th national conference resolutions on the role of SOEs,” said Mabe.
But, according to a senior ANC official, the meeting is an orchestrated attempt to oust Gordhan. After the ANC’s January 8 statement, labour federation Cosatu joined the chorus of voices calling for Gordhan’s removal, citing his inability to address the dire condition of the state-owned companies, including Eskom and SAA.
The minister will struggle to defend his tenure at the public enterprises department.
Eskom finds itself in a precarious financial situations with debt of more than R400-billion, while the government’s plans to restructure and rescue the power utility from the brink is being met with resistance from unions who see it as a ploy to privatise the company and shed jobs.
The state airline, which has been placed under business rescue, was on tenterhooks this week as the government’s delay in raising R2-billion needed to continue operating could see SAA cancel flights by the weekend. The airline has also put up for sale its nine long haul aircraft, the only aircraft it owns, in a bid to free up cash.
But the pressure for Gordhan to step down is not being driven by the delicate rebalancing of loyalties in Luthuli House alone.
It is understood that Gordhan has been under pressure from some in his family to retire from the burdens of public life.
The Economic Freedom Fighters have consistently hounded Gordhan, claiming he is a front for “white monopoly capital”. The red berets leader has threatened to disrupt the State of the Nation address, should Ramaphosa fail to remove Gordhan.
But close advisers in the Gordhan camp insist that he is not going anywhere.
This week saw ANC stalwarts and veterans issuing a statement
in defence of Gordhan and blaming the failing state of SOEs on former president Jacob Zuma’s administration.
“Casting blame on and directing opprobrium at Pravin Gordhan for the state of affairs at Eskom is disingenuous and duplicitous,” the statement reads.
“Eskom’s decades-long management failures were compounded by criminal state capture, aided and abetted by a range of ministers in Jacob Zuma’s disastrous administration, as well as a coterie of thieves appointed to successive boards of Eskom. Pravin Gordhan is not one of them.
“The group believes that the real target behind calls for Gordhan’s removal is Ramaphosa.
“A convergence, or ‘unity’, of these individuals and organisations is indeed underway and is self-evidently designed to bring about the removal of a president committed to rehabilitating the country’s institutions and eliminating corruption,” said the veterans.