OPINION: The war continues

Only two members of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) raised the issue of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s continued tenure, during the NEC lekgotla which took place in Pretoria over the weekend.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule’s face was like a wet fortnight when he told the media that there had been no appetite in the meeting to pursue the matter, coming on the heels of mounting calls for Mr Gordhan to be “recalled”, and/or for Eskom to be handed over to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Clearly he was disappointed that the anticipated axing of Mr Gordhan had not come about.

The two who raised the issue during the meeting, need little introduction: former State Security Minister, Bongani Bongo, and former Mineral Resources Minister, Mosebenzi Zwane.

Mr Bongo is currently out on R5 000 bail after appearing in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court in November after the Hawk’s arrested him on charges of allegedly attempting to bribe an evidence leader during one of Parliament’s inquiries into state capture.

Mr Zwane has been fingered in the Estina dairy farm debacle, accused of pressuring the big four banks to not close the Gupta family’s business accounts, and in then public protector Thuli Madnosela’s State of Capture report, of playing a pivotal role in the sale of Glencore’s Optimum mine to the Gupta-owned mining group, Tegeta Exploration and Resources.

Both lost their cabinet posts when President Cyril Ramaphosa effected his first cabinet reshuffle in February 2018, after successfully pushing his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, onto his own sword.

That both are still members of the ANC NEC, is cause for concern, but considering that convicted criminal, Tony Yengeni, is also an NEC member, this should come as no surprise.

It is perhaps a mark of the decline in the moral and ethical standing of the ANC, that whereas it has in the past hidden behind the convenient shibboleth of “innocent until proven guilty” when a member is accused of malfeasance, it has now abandoned all such pretences.

As the Zondo Commission of inquiry into state capture plods along, and the mounting evidence of wrongdoing unfolds, it is easy to lose sight of the likes of Messrs Bongo and Zwane, but to do so, would be a mistake.

Aside from indicating that Mr Ramaphosa still seems to hold a razor-thin majority in the NEC, their unsuccessful attempt to pursue the removal from office of Mr Gordhan ought to be little cause for celebration. The radical economic transformation (RET) faction which they represent, is engaged in a vicious fight back campaign, with Eskom as the prize, but it is a proxy war for the main prize: engineering the demise of Mr Ramaphosa’s chances of securing a second term as president, at the all-important 55th elective conference in 2022.

If Mr Gordhan goes, it will be a major victory for the RET faction, which could spell the beginning of the end of Mr Ramaphosa’s second term.

That both felt sufficiently emboldened to pursue Mr Gordhan’s removal from office (Mr Zwane is said to have suggested the lekgotla “reflect on Mr Gordhan’s performance as public enterprises minister”), has grave portents.

It suggest that neither of them fear legal retribution for their alleged contributions to state capture.

That the likes of Mr Zwane have the gall to criticise Mr Gordhan for taking too long to fix the mess they played a major part in creating at Eskom, is beyond belief, but it suggests that they – and the RET brigade – are confident that they can unseat Mr Gordhan, and thereafter, Mr Ramaphosa.

The wildcard in the deck, is Deputy President David Mabuza, who, until he accused Mr Gordhan and the Eskom board of misleading Mr Ramaphosa about load shedding over the festive season, has remained largely neutral in the internecine war between Mr Ramaphosa’s reformists and the RET faction. Which side of the fence he eventually chooses to sit, will be decisive in the outcome of this fight.

Criticised of late for not acting decisively and rapidly enough in clearing out the rot in the executive and his administration, Mr Ramaphosa must surely hope, that despite the constraints which plague the prosecutorial and investigative arms of the judicial system, National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, will pull a rabbit out of the hat, in the form of one or more high-profile prosecutions of those implicated in state capture.

We all need hope.