President Cyril Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan. (Halden Krog/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
At the height of the ANC’s internal pushback against state capture during President Jacob Zuma’s tenure, Pravin Gordhan was heralded as its champion within the party.
Gordhan had been one of Zuma’s victims during his time as finance minister. His recall from an investor road trip to the UK and days later his removal by Zuma was the last remaining salvo by the then-ANC president against his former ally.
Gordhan became a darling of the media. He was considered to have been crucified by Zuma and his allies during his two stints as finance minister for having taken a stand against the nuclear deal. He and his successor Nhlanhla Nene had refused to sign off on a deal which would have resulted in the country increasing its debt during one of the most difficult financial times.
When Gordhan was shuffled to the public enterprises portfolio in 2018, many saw this as a wise move by Ramaphosa. It was as a positive step in turning around key state entities and the much-needed revival of Eskom and the South African Airways.
Much like his principal, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Gordhan was pardoned for the continued rot at Eskom by both the ANC and the wider general public … at least for the first half of his term.
But Gordhan has failed to live up to expectation and SOEs under his department are bleeding. Eskom’s woes have deepened during his tenure. The power utility escalated load-shedding stages, Mango Airlines went into business rescue, Transnet and Eskom have been leaderless and Gordhan stands accused of meddling in the internal affairs of boards.
The Democratic Alliance, which once heralded Gordhan for his pushback against Zuma, has apportioned blame for the deterioration of the state-owned enterprises squarely at Gordhan’s feet.
In a recent statement by the party, its MP Farhat Essack said that the damage inflicted by Gordhan’s disastrous tenure goes beyond board and management levels, and extends to the financial health of SOEs.
DA research suggests that Eskom, Transnet, Denel, Safcol, Alexkor, SAA and SA Express have incurred R300 billion in irregular expenditure, and R1.3 billion in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, calling it a direct indictment to Gordhan’s avowed promise to clean up SOEs that were ravaged by state capture and wholesale looting under Zuma.
Gordhan must also contend with growing frustration and mistrust within his party. This week, the party’s national executive committee rejected his presentation on the state of his department. It’s said that secretary general Fikile Mbalula was even willing to butt heads with Ramaphosa, who still insists on defending Gordhan.
What is clear now is that Gordhan has lost favour with his party and the general public.