Pravin GorhanThis is a simple story about the two key ingredients of politics: power and money.

And Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s well respected Minister of Finance, stands in the way of Jacob Zuma’s plans in both areas.

So Gordhan, Zuma’s old comrade in the ANC and Communist Party, must go.


As Minister of Finance Gordhan controls the country’s Treasury. So while Zuma’s allies have managed to plunder local and provincial government coffers they have not yet got their hands on the really large sums.

Last year the National Audit reported that there was irregular expenditure of R25.7-billion across the country’s national and provincial departments and public entities for 2014-2015 – but much more is at stake.

Zuma’s plans to do a deal with China or Russia for nuclear power plants and attempts to endlessly bail out parastatal companies like the airways – SAA – have been blocked by Gordhan.

Gordhan cartoon

As Bloomberg put it: Gordhan “…said Zuma’s plans to add 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy to the national grid can only go ahead if they’re affordable and demanded the dismissal of the management of South African Airways, the loss-making national airline, and tax chief Tom Moyane, whom he accused of insubordination.”

No wonder President Zuma recently decided to directly oversee parastatal strategy himself.


After the ANC’s disastrous local government results in August there is a need to find a scapegoat – and President Zuma is determined that it will not be him.

So he, and his allies in the ‘Premier League’ (the ANC chairmen of the North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal), the ANC Women’s and Youth Leagues and the now much diminished unions associated with Cosatu, are calling for action.

They want an early ANC national conference, to cement in place a new leadership that will protect the Zuma legacy.

This is critical for them, since most have benefitted from Zuma’s patronage. It was he, as President of the country, the ANC and the former chairman of the ANC’s deployment committee, who put them in place.

The policy of cadre deployment is critical to the ANC’s project, and covers every aspect of society – not just government.

Asked in 1999 in a rare interview on the subject whether deployment was designed to achieve transformation not just in the governmental sector but every organ of civil society Zuma replied: “Not only government sector, everywhere. Yes.”

Deployment has allowed those close to the ANC elite to plunder at will. Those who benefitted will defend Zuma at almost any price.

The real problem for the Zuma faction is that Gordhan is supported by the alternative part of the ANC alliance. This is one that comprises of the South African Communist Party, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as well many in the Gauteng ANC. One other faction is in play, associated with former President Thabo Mbeki.

Predicting which faction will triumph is not easy, which explains why Zuma is so determined to strike now to remove Gordhan, before his enemies can organise against him.

The case against Gordhan

Gordhan received a letter from the ‘Hawks’ – South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) which targets organized crime, economic crime, corruption, and other serious crime. He was asked to come in today, to answer their allegations. 

Business Day – the South African equivalent of the Financial Times – summed up the case in these terms.

Gordhan was “warned that he was now a suspect, two issues are named: his role in establishing the covert unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS); and his decision to provide his former deputy SARS commissioner (and close comrade) Ivan Pillay a cushy early retirement deal.

On the matter of the covert unit, as Gordhan’s lawyers tell the Hawks in their response, the chance of a successful prosecution is really pie in the sky. Gordhan had the permissions in hand. The collection of covert information is not against the law.

Where the law was broken — the notorious Project Sunday Evenings, in which a moonlighting member of the unit bugged the National Prosecuting Authority — there has never been a hint to link Gordhan to it.

On the questions of Pillay’s retirement package, proving some sort of deviation from procedure may be an outside possibility but it will not be simple to come up with something substantial that can stick as it has frequently been done in the past.”

Gordhan believes none of this has any real substance, but it is not the attempt to remove him. Previous attacks included spreading smears by the intellingence services in a report that was known as ‘Project Spiders Web’.

Gordhan refuses to turn himself in

Gordhan, believing the summons from the Hawks has refused to comply. As he put it: “leave me alone to do my job.”

These alleged contraventions are dealt with in detail in my attorneys’ attached letter. Suffice it to say they advise that the alleged charges are wholly unfounded.I therefore, do not intend to present myself for a warning statement for many considerations, both legal and given my other commitments.

The ball is now in the Hawk’s court – and with their master, Jacob Zuma.

Who is opposing Gordhan’s removal?

A string of the great and the good have come out in Gordhan’s support.

These include old ANC comrades,  Mathews Phosa,  and Nelson Mandela’s old lawyer and friend, George Bizos. So too did Trevor Manuel, Gordhan’s predecessor as Finance Minister, who warned that dismissing the minister would “destroy the economy.”

Business leaders and the main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, have given Gordhan their support.

Business has most to lose, in the immediate future, with the Rand already having already dropped against major currencies.

Some argue that the economic case is so strong that Gordhan will prevail.

None of this is likely to really concern President Zuma.

He, like Henry II nearly a thousand years ago, is determined to put an end to his opponent. As the king then asked: “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”

The result was Thomas Becket’s bloody corpse on the floor of Canterbury Cathedral.