Shoot the messenger?

Nhlanhla Nene prepares to testify at the state capture inquiry. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Should Nhlanhla Nene resign, as it is rumoured he has offered to do?

Press reports on Monday suggested that Mr Nene called President Cyril Ramphosa over the weekend and asked to be relieved of his duties as finance minister, following calls for his firing after he testified last week at the Zondo State Capture Commision of Inquiry, that he had met with the Guptas on multiple occassions between 2008 and 2014.

Oppostion parties are quite naturally baying for his blood, with the EFF’s Julius Malema (who seems to believe he is driving the national political agenda), leading the charge.

In a public poll conducted on a local radio station on Monday morning, 55% of respondents said he ought to stay.

A slew of columns have appeared, variously arguing in either direction.

Although Mr Ramaphosa’s office has apparently remained silent thus far, it is worth remembering that Mr Nene could, if he chose to, simply write a letter of resignation as finance minister, and hit the “Send” button. But he has not done so.

It is perhaps a reflection of our society that it is seen as a binary argument – should he go or should he stay – but although we don’t yet know the detail of what transpired in each of the 10 meetings to which he admitted, his testimony suggests that it is a more nuanced argument.

When asked by Justice Zondo why he had not taken the matter straight to then president Jacob Zuma, Mr Nene’s response seemed to be a side-stepping of the question, but his answer is a clear indication of his predicament. “As a minister, you serve at the pleasure of the president. “Your appointment is not for five years. It is for 24-hours.”

In other words, you can be dismissed at any time by the president, and considering the damning testimony from multiple sources, Mr Nene probably would have been fired if he had taken the matter to Mr Zuma.

Instead, Mr Nene chose to remain silent, and events that unfolded publicly – and his subsequent testimony – show that he pushed back diligently against the forces that were bent on pillaging the public purse.

The so-called Russian nuclear deal was by then a matter of public debate, and the pressure was clearly on Mr Nene to sign off the deal, despite it being abundantly clear that it was not in the best interests of the country.

Mr Nene steadfastly resisted the relentless pressure from multiple quarters until Mr Zuma fired him on December 9 2015 and appointed Des “Just for the weekend, ne?” van Rooyen, a presumably compliant cadre who would do as he was told by the boss, as finance minister.

That Mr Van Rooyen’s appointment lasted literally for a weekend, ought to give pause for thought in the vilifcation of Mr Nene.

Rather than the knee-jerk “Off with his head!” reaction of Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, a measure of reflection suggests that had Mr Nene not stuck it out and publicly resisted the mounting pressure to sign the nuclear deal, the backlash from the business community that resulted in Pravin Gordhan returning as finance minister a few days later, might not have happened.

For what precisely is Mr Nene being condemned? Because he remained silent about the meetings with the Guptas?

Because he didn’t raise the matter with Mr Zuma?

Because where there is smoke there is fire, and it is obvious he must be guilty of something?

Because he allegedly influenced the Public Investment Corporation’s (PIC) investment committee in regard to a loan for his son, while he was deputy finance minister and PIC chairman? (On this issue, Mr Nene’s conduct ought to be investigated, but the EFF conflating the allegation with state capture, smacks of desperation.)

It is worth noting that there have been no calls for the heads of the likes of Vytjie Mentoor or Mcebisi Jonas, both of whom gave equally damning testimony about interactions with the Guptas. Why not? Because neither currently holds public office?

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordahn is set to testify before the state capture commission on Friday, and it is likely that his testimony will be equally explosive and equally damning. We know that Mr Gordhan also pushed back during his two periods in office as finance minister, which twice resulted in his dismissal by Mr Zuma.

If Mr Gordhan admits next Friday to having met with the Guptas at any time, will we also hear howls of “Off with his head”?

By noon on Monday, Julius Malema had publicly said if Mr Ramaphosa would not fire Mr Nene, “it might be necessary to go to the streets”, which makes him the vengeful Madame Defarges of our politics.

The notion that Mr Nene ought not to be rewarded for simply doing his job – resisting the pressure to acquiesce to state capture – is nonsense, since he was not functioning in a normal political environment.

He held the line, knowing he had no support; knowing it would result in his dismissal.