Hlengiwe Nhlabathi, Abram Mashego and Setumo Stone
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu.
Currently the ANC is divided over the pending prosecution of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan whose fraud case is set down on November 2nd.
Two highly placed sources said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had assured Berning Ntlemeza, head of priority crimes unit the Hawks, that it would not back down on the decision to charge Gordhan.
Mthembu said he raised the call for the national executive committee (NEC) to resign in subsequent meetings of the party following its dismal performance in the August 3rd local elections.
He said that the current leadership “reduced the governing party to something that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth”.
Going public for the first time about his call for the leadership to step down, Mthembu told City Press that he was deeply hurt to witness an ANC government using instruments of state to pursue its own minister.
He said his target was not President Jacob Zuma and he was “not interested in any position but to save the ANC”.
He said he would not be availing himself for a position in the ANC come December 2017, when the party’s national elective conference takes place.
He would rather go back to his branch and make a contribution through political education, he added.
Two weeks ago, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams announced that Gordhan would be charged with fraud related to signing off on his former Sars deputy Ivan Pillay’s early retirement.
Mthembu and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, were among senior party leaders and stalwarts who offered Gordhan moral and political support ahead of his appearance in court on November 2.
Their support has been interpreted as a tacit vote of no confidence against President Zuma by some in the ANC and government – blaming Zuma for trying to taint Gordhan’s “good name” through trumped-up charges.
Other high-ranking ANC officials who have declared their support for Gordhan include Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize, Aaron Motsoaledi, Enoch Godongwana and Joe Phaahla.
But ANC structures such as the youth and women’s leagues, and the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association, have all said Gordhan must answer to the charges, like any other citizen.
Support for the beleaguered finance minister continued to grow this week as business leaders from the country’s 80 largest companies pledged their support for him, saying the charges were “without factual or legal foundation and not in the public interest”.
“We stand against the damage this has caused to our economy and to the people of South Africa, especially the poor,” read the pledge. (See the full text on page 16.)
The signatories represent mining companies, major banks, clothing retailers, grocery chain stores, private hospital networks and audit firms including the JSE, Anglo American SA, Barclays Africa, Goldman Sachs, KPMG Southern Africa, Naspers, as well as Business Leadership SA and the Black Business Council.
It was widely speculated that, following the outcome of the August elections, some senior ANC members wanted to resign en masse over the ANC’s poor showing.
Excessive state expenditure on Zuma’s private home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal was cited as one of the main reasons for the ANC’s nosedive result of 54%.
The NPA’s decision to charge Gordhan, who was preparing to deliver the medium-term budget policy statement – known as the mini budget – this Wednesday, was the final straw for ANC members such as Mthembu.
It followed a litany of scandals that happened under the watch of the ANC’s NEC, including the removal of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.
“Why should we not step down, given that we have messed up? All these things happened under our watch. The ANC is losing support at 54%. Unless the party starts doing things differently, we will not be in power in 2019,” Mthembu charged.
“He [Gordhan] is pursued in a manner that is anti-democracy and anti-ANC, and some of us will stand against it. How can instruments of state be used to pursue our own minister? It goes beyond political bankruptcy. What’s more worrying is how our people have lost confidence in us. “When you see these things being done by a democratic state, your heart jumps. We are not only equal to the apartheid state, we are worse – because they never treated their ministers like this.”
Mthembu said ANC stalwarts such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu would be in his corner – “standing for what is right and supporting Gordhan”.
He shouldered blame for having kept quiet this long, but said he hoped that his speaking out would encourage other NEC comrades.
“Speaking out against what is wrong is the only way to save the ANC, or we will continue to guillotine one another.”
Mthembu said he would use the next NEC gathering to pose these questions: “After messing up, are we fit and proper to lead the ANC? Should we not look at others to lead to get the ANC out of this morass?”
He added that the NEC owed Nene an apology for having all kept quiet and believed Zuma when he said Nene was recommended for a job at the New Development Bank – a multilateral development bank established by the Brics states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – which never materialised.
“That must be interrogated. Why was Nene removed?”
Mthembu said he hoped Gordhan’s case would be struck off the roll. Since his appointment as chief whip in March, Mthembu has vowed never to make mistakes akin to the manner in which the Nkandla issue was handled.
In related developments this week, Abrahams assured Ntlemeza that his invitation to Gordhan to make representations to the NPA was only procedural and he would still be ploughing ahead with the prosecution.
Abrahams had invited Gordhan to make representations for the charges against him to be reviewed, but the finance minister declined.
In contrast, his two co-accused – former SA Revenue Service commissioner Oupa Magashula and Pillay – complied.
At least two sources privy to the details of the Hawks investigation said Abrahams told Ntlemeza that the process was merely a procedure that had to be followed.
“He assured the general [Ntlemeza] that the process was just procedure which had to be followed after the receipt of the representations,” said an insider.
Gordhan’s lawyer, Tebogo Malatji, and Magashule said they had heard nothing from Abrahams by end of business on Friday.
The civil rights body Freedom Under Law had given Abrahams a deadline of Friday afternoon to withdraw the charges against Gordhan or face going to court.
But on Friday, Abrahams wrote to retired Judge Johann Kriegler, who chairs Freedom Under Law, saying he needed more time as he had “directed further investigations to be conducted to assist me in reaching a decision”. He said the legal representatives of Magashula and Pillay made “verbal representations” on Monday, followed by “written representations” on Tuesday.
“As such, I am reviewing the decision to prosecute Mr Magashula, Mr Pillay and Mr Gordhan,” said Abrahams, adding that he “regarded this matter as urgent and will be in communication with the legal representatives of Mr Magashula and Mr Pillay to advise them of the outcome of their representations once I have received the additional information requested and have considered the same”.
An urgent application to get Abrahams to drop charges against Gordhan was likely, according to Kriegler, following the letter from Abrahams on Friday.
Last week, a senior ANC NEC member sympathetic to Zuma accused Mthembu of using his position as ANC chief whip in Parliament to undermine Zuma and to create confusion. “There is a parallel NEC in Parliament led by Jackson. He has created his own faction there,” he said, adding that the strategy by the anti-Zuma group was to “paralyse the NEC”.
“If you take decisions this side at the NEC and we defeat them, they go to Parliament to create confusion.
He said they had identified a group in the NEC that wanted to resign in numbers at a particular time to create a crisis, and it was likely the trigger would be the removal of Gordhan as finance minister.
“But we are still strong as the NEC.”