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Zwane’s Only Sin Is That He Touched The Untouchable Gordhan

By virtue of President Cyril Ramaphosa being a lawyer by qualification, one would expect respect for the rule of law, especially the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, to be a hallmark of his presidency. As a legal right afforded to an accused in a criminal trial, the principle is enshrined in Article 11 of the United Nation’s (UN’s) Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Sadly, the principle has been defenestrated under the Ramaphosa presidency. In fact, the president himself defenestrates it for political expediency.  

Succumbing to pressure from civil society organisations – Wise 4 Africa and the Soul City Institute – that are opposed to Gender-Based Violence (GBV), for example, he withdrew from Chairman’s Conversation, hosted by Given Mkhari, a Power987 chairman. 

Mkhari and his wife, Ipelegeng, had laid charges of assault against each other. However, the couple had withdrawn the charges by the time Ramaphosa was set to converse with Mkhari. His withdrawal, therefore, presumed Mkhari guilty until proven innocent. 

Ramaphosa, of all people, should respect the principle, which applies to former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and others accused of state capture. They should not be prevented from holding or expressing their views, be it inside or outside the ANC, or have their solutions to our challenges e disregarded under fightback fear-mongering. Some among them are best knowledge assets or experts who can help us address some of our challenges. 

In his recent media interviews, for example, former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe raised an important point that many among his state capture accusers have definitely missed, namely Eskom needs a knowledge management (KM) system to address a power crisis.

To hold our public servants to account, we should disabuse ourselves from the fightback fear-mongering. Reacting to reports that Zwane had led a charge to dislodge Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan accusing the governing party of treating him and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as “super ministers,” during an ANC lekgotla meeting over past weekend, Rudie Heyneke, a portfolio manager on state capture at Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), posed the question: “Why would anybody listen to Mosebenzi Zwane?” He went on to assert that Zwane, who is a Member of Parliament, should be in prison for his role in state capture.

Zwane, who has not stood a trial over state capture accusations, raised a call that had been gaining traction outside the ANC following the load shedding that happened before 13 January 2020. Ramaphosa had promised the nation that there would not be load shedding until that day. 

Not mincing his words, Deputy President David Mabuza accused Gordhan and an Eskom board of having misled the President. Following the accusation, Jabu Mabuza resigned as a board chairman. His resignation prompted calls, including from Cosatu, one of the ANC’s tripartite allies, that Gordhan and the entire Eskom board should follow suit.

There are compelling reasons for Ramaphosa to remove Gordhan and for the ANC to rein in Mboweni. For the first time since Eskom started implementing load shedding in 2007, South Africans have borne the brunt of stage 6 under Gordhan. 

For the first time in our democratic order, a state-owned enterprise (SOE) – SAA – has filed for a voluntary business rescue under him, succumbing to pressure from Solidarity, a white minority union. By now, having been appointed in February 2018, Gordhan ought to have overseen a SOEs turnaround strategy. 

About 27 black executives have turned down a CEO position at Eskom. This is a no-confidence motion in Gordhan by the black executives. 

In his resignation letter as an SAA CEO, Vuyani Jacana cited a lack of support from government to implement his Long-Term Turnaround Strategy (LTTS). Although he refrained from pointing fingers, Gordhan, as a shareholder representative, and Mboweni, who has called for the cash-strapped SAA to be shut down and start a new national airline, should account for the SAA’s placement under the business rescue.

Following in the footsteps of British Airways, which used to find itself in a similar situation as the SAA, Jacana had planned to bring in a KM practitioner. However, he was bound to fail without support from the ministers.

Mboweni, who has been chastising a party resolution to change a mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) beyond price stability to incorporate “other objectives such as employment creation and economic growth,” undermines internal democratic processes. 

Party resolutions are part of the internal democratic processes. Once adopted at a national conference, they should be respected and implemented by those deployed in government and Parliament. 

Like his fellow NEC member Fikile Mbalula, Zwane is a disciplined ANC member. ‘Fear Fokol,’ as Mbalula calls himself, complained in an NEC meeting about one of the Gupta brothers who had informed him about his pending appointment as a minister in lieu of former president Jacob Zuma.  

Zwane also raised his displeasure about Gordhan and Mboweni in an NEC meeting. He chose not to attack them in the fourth estate. 

Accountability starts neither in Parliament, nor through the fourth estate. It starts within a party structure, with the NEC being the highest decision-making structure in-between conferences. Therefore, ANC leaders should be able to hold each other to account without a fear of reprisal outside the party. 

Zwane is right. The ANC should not treat Gordhan and Mboweni as “super ministers” who cannot be held to account. 

  • Molifi Tshabalala is an independent political analyst.

OPINION: Molifi Tshabalala