SUNDAY TIMES - Isolated Zuma faces revolt over Pravin Gordhan's axing
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Sunday Times News By QAANITAH HUNTER, THANDUXOLO JIKA and THABO MOKONE, 2017-04-02 00:05:00.0

Isolated Zuma faces revolt over Pravin Gordhan's axing

ape businesses are in favour of closing down on Friday in protest against the sacking of former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan
Image: AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

President Jacob Zuma is becoming increasingly isolated as his deputy, senior ANC figures, and alliance partners lead an open rebellion against his latest cabinet reshuffle.

Nationwide mass protests, some organised by political formations allied to the ANC, are being planned to pressure Zuma to step down.

Opposition parties the DA and the EFF are banking on a fractured ANC caucus in parliament as they push for a no confidence motion that threatens to prematurely end Zuma's presidency.

The unprecedented open rebellion against Zuma from within the ANC's top six structure became public just hours after Zuma stunned South Africa with a late-night cabinet reshuffle on Thursday, when Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize publicly distanced themselves from the changes.

This led to a government memorial service in honour of the late struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada being cancelled at short notice amid claims that Zuma had called it off out of fear that it was to be used by Ramaphosa, who was scheduled to be the main speaker, to further attack him.

Zuma's office yesterday denied he was responsible, and Ramaphosa's spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, admitted that the deputy president had actually asked that it be postponed "under the current political climate".

That tensions between Zuma and Ramaphosa have reached crisis point was further evident yesterday as the president's followers spread rumours that the deputy president had resigned.

"There is no truth to the dissemination of this falsehood. Deputy President Ramaphosa remains in his position as Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa and that of the ruling party," said Mamoepa.

At the centre of the fallout is a total breakdown of trust between Zuma and at least three of the ANC's five most senior leaders, which appears to be directly linked to the party's upcoming elective national conference.

While Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize charged that Zuma's latest cabinet reshuffle - in which Pravin Gordhan was replaced by Malusi Gigaba as finance minister - was done without their consultation, Zuma's sympathisers said he could not take them into his confidence because "he no longer trusts them".

Ramaphosa, Mantashe, and Mkhize revealed that Zuma did not consult them before making the changes, but merely informed them by tabling a list of new ministers.

"I can't use the word consulted on the matter. That's how I describe it because we were given a list that was complete. And in my own view as the secretary-general I felt that this list has been developed elsewhere and given to us to legitimise it," Mantashe told 702.

Ramaphosa revealed that he opposed Gordhan's removal when Zuma tabled the list with them on Thursday night, "largely because he was being removed based on an intelligence report that I believe had unsubstantiated allegations about the minister of finance and his deputy going to London to mobilise financial markets against our country".

There is no truth to the dissemination of this falsehood. Deputy President Ramaphosa remains in his position as Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa and that of the ruling party

He added: "Now that I find totally, totally unacceptable that a person who has served our country with such distinction would do something like that. It reminded me of my own situation in 2001 when there was an intelligence report that said that I was involved in a plot to overthrow the government of then president Thabo Mbeki," said Ramaphosa.

The two other members of the top six are deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte and national chairwoman Baleka Mbete - both of whom are said to have supported the cabinet reshuffle.

Two associates of the president, both of whom refused to be named, defended his action, saying he did so after someone in the top six leaked details of an earlier meeting where he had informed them of plans to replace Gordhan with former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe.

"The details of the Monday meeting were all over the news even though they were alone as officials when the matters were discussed. How can he continue to trust them? Even on Thursday it did not take long after he summoned them to Pretoria for the meeting for that meeting to be a top news item on TV. So clearly there was a breakdown of trust even before he could present them with the list," the Zuma associate argued.

But Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize believe the president did not allow for the discussion of the list because it had been "compiled elsewhere".

Sparks are expected to fly when the top six meets for the first time since the reshuffle tomorrow, when Zuma is expected to defend himself against the charge that he had been influenced by the Gupta family in removing Gordhan.

Zuma's opponents will go to the meeting supported by the SACP, whose politburo on Friday called on Zuma to resign. The SACP's second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said the party was now busy drawing up a programme of mass action aimed at ousting the president.

"We have asked him to leave. We said he must resign with immediate effect. The ANC will have to choose between society and its leader," Mapaila said.

The opposition is also piling on the pressure.

The EFF has approached the Constitutional Court to have Zuma impeached, while the DA has written to National Assembly Speaker Mbete, requesting a debate on a vote of no confidence in Zuma.

Mapaila suggested that it would be hard for his party to convince its members who are MPs to vote against the motion "under the current conditions".

At least 17 out of the 249 ANC MPs in parliament are also leading SACP members. But the anger with Zuma extends even to those who don't hold dual membership.

Enoch Godongwana, who heads the ANC's economic transformation committee, was one of those who expressed anger although he was "not shocked because of the numerous attempts that have been made to discredit them, including the attempt to charge Pravin for some spurious crimes".

The ANC in Gauteng will meet to decide on the province's position, but chairman Paul Mashatile told the Sunday Times Zuma's actions were not in line with ANC tradition.

Mkhize, who attended a government event with Zuma yesterday in Pietermaritzburg, said Zuma's behaviour indicated that the ANC was no longer the centre of power.

"I have my reservations on the process followed and the manner in which this cabinet reshuffle was done. ... the briefing by the president left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre and thus depriving the leadership collective of its responsibility to advise politically on executive matters.

"Ordinarily, this is how leadership takes collective responsibility for decisions made and as such is comfortable to own all the decisions taken in the interest of the ANC and South Africa."

But Mbete said Gordhan's removal was inevitable.

"I think ... the history of relationships therein, have always pointed to the inevitability of such a development.

"It shouldn't be difficult to see when relationships are difficult. In government it's very important for there to be relationships whereby people can work together," she said.

But Mbete was coy when asked if she supported Zuma's decision. "I am in a car in Bangladesh, I am not sure if it's proper for us to continue ... ."

Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said: "I think we must commend the president because he has shown consistency in consulting with various partners. There's no crisis. There's no organisational resistance to the appointment and redeployment."

The ANC in North West plans to raise concerns about the conduct of some officials after the cabinet reshuffle, and the ANC Youth League lambasted Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize's "unfortunate outbursts".

Additional reporting by Babalo Ndenze

hunterq@sundaytimes.co.za, jikat@sundaytimes.co.za and mokonet@sundaytimes.co.za