Mabuza’s harsh blow to Gordhanism while checkmating Ramaphosa into a forced cabinet reshuffle


By: Clyde Ramalaine

In the sweltering heat of a Northern Cape sun, that mercilessly beats down, home of South Africa’s smallest provincial population, yet vast landmass, ANC and South Africa’s politics was reordered – if not actually redefined.

Last Thursday, while walking around in Kimberley, during the January 8 celebrations, the ANC and SA Deputy President, David D. Mabuza, was asked by a journalist about the ongoing Eskom crisis, and he responded with: “They’ve misled the president, but right from the day we went there with the president I insisted on maintenance. Maintenance of these power stations is very important.“ This statement set the cat among the pigeons [pun intended].

The statement reverberates in marking the clearest of moments of tearing in post-Nasrec ANC hegemonic tectonic political plates.

This statement confirmed the ejection of a board chair and his board, necessitating a new board for Eskom. It is the most daring exposure of the glaring failure of Gordhanism, and in dovetail sense the checkmating of a president that continues to struggle with a crisis of legitimacy.

It is the blind who analyze Mabuza’s utterances as out of turn, a mistake, or even a faux -pas. Contrary to what journalist and talkshow host, Karima Brown, on ENCA advanced, when she asserted, “Mabuza spoke out of turn…”, we know Mabuza spoke in an emphatic, calculated, and demonstrative sense on the matter. Meaning that he knew exactly what he was doing, why he was doing it, and to what ends.

Mabuza often referred to by name as ”The Cat”, in reference to his tactical fortitude to influence personal and group politics, albeit with himself at the centre for interest base, threw down the gauntlet. Those who continue peddling sophisms of Mabuza speaking out of turn, must read  Mabuza’s response to the Sunday Times, when he was called on what he said. He again was emphatic: “I said what I have said, I am stiill going to take a meeting with the president, so that we get new direction on what we must do.”

No sooner has Mabuza leveled the accusation of deception or misleading against the Eskom leadership and Board, when the president’s spokesperson, Khuselo Diko, was at pains to spin a lame claim that the president was not misled, Mabuza meant nothing malicious with his statement etc. This move by president Ramaphosa was again in bad taste, since he as president missed the opportunity to address this matter personally, but left it in the hands of a junior. Correctly, former 2012 presidential candidate, cabinet minister, and business man, Tokyo Sexwale, raised the pertinent issue of one presidency that appears at odds with itself.

This singular statement by Mabuza had by Friday night already it’s first casualty, when Eskom Chair, Jabu Mabuza, tendered his resignation with immediate effect. Ramaphosa who was a no show at the planned Galeshewe health walk, also did not show up at the golf day,  leaving the Treasury General Paul Mashatile  to tee-off in his place. He however, was compelled to make the announcement about the Eskom Chair, having resigned at the gala dinner.

It didn’t take long to realise that Mabuza’s statement was the most categorical public utterance of his displeasure with Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan. The latter hitherto remained a very powerful and untouchable politician, often considered more powerful than Ramaphosa.

South Africa – Johannesburg – Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan speaking as the Eskom group announced it’s annual results for the end of 31 March 2019 Megawatt Park in Sunninghill, Gauteng.
Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Let us therefore attempt making sense of what Mabuza said, and what he may have explicitly and implicitly meant.

I am of the view that Mabuza was dealing three groups of people, and individuals, with this singular statement.

Firstly, it was clear that Mabuza was saying the Eskom Board, and Exevutive Management, consciously lied, and deceived the president.  These lies on their part extends plausibility to the subject of their own incompetence. Thus, Mabuza finally agreed with many of us, who have been lamenting the incompetence of both board, and management, since this board was appointed in February 2018 by Gordhan.

Secondly, while Mabuza categorically accuses Eskom [board and management], the ‘they’ he referred to, includes the Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan. In the clearest sense of the word, Mabuza is taking more than a swipe at Gordhan, whom I recently explained in the phenomenon of Gordhanism. He is saying to Gordhan you have failed to lead Eskom, and all SOE’s, and that the last two years have shown that you are wholly out of your depth. Mabuza thus re-echoes what I analysed, and articulated, in Gordhanism as a phenomenon that conflates a person for a democratic system. It arrogates a right not to be questioned, and demands loyalty and respect on all fronts. A phenomenon that characteristically distinguishes itself as specializing in hollow deflections of blaming others, when its glaring failures are increasingly visible, if not tangible.

Former Business Day Peter Bruce, who often arrogates to himself a right to instruct Ramaphosa on what to do, in his latest opinion piece in the Sunday Times, argues that Gordhan must be shifted to the Ministry of Finance, since he is not good at the Ministry of Enterprises. Bruce lacks the courage of conviction to admit Gordhan has failed dismally at Public Enterprises, and he resorts to take refuge in “not good“. Why not call it what it is Peter, you would have said of any other minister that they are pathetic useless, and out of depth? Bruce then dares to direct for current Finance Minister Tito Mboweni be moved to Public Enterprises, in a swop with Gordhan. If a minister is incompetent, and failing in one area, why must he be rewarded with another cabinet position? Is it because he ensembles Gordhanism as a political phenomenon, that purports the superhero status of an individual media-promoted, as swayed in the fixing of things? It is the elevation of someone to a deity, when in fact the individual is aggressively working for the demise of transformation.

Mabuza, thus, with his statement calls for the political head of Gordhan on the proverbial and biblical Herod platter. Is Mabuza in a strange twist – be it real, premature even farcical – suggesting my future presidency will not have Gordhanism as part of it, no minister or politician will again be afforded the untouchable status that Pravin since March 2016 was wrongly  christened with.

Thirdly, he is taking more than a swipe at Ramaphosa. In my assessment he has just checkmated Ramaphosa, for the second time. Shall we forget how he, on the eve of the cabinet announcement, checkmated Ramaphosa in directing him that he will not be sworn in before he had cleared his name with the ANC Integrity Commission. Ramaphosa, for all his presidential powers, was forced to wait as Mabuza directed.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was the main speaker at the ANC’s 108th annual January 8 anniversary celebrations in Kimberley in the Northern Cape on Saturday. FILE PHOTO: ANA/Danie van der Lith

Is it possible that Mabuza is saying to Ramaphosa, you are not a victim in this regard? You aided this misleading, because you wholly and uncritically believed everything  that Gordhan advises and directs. He is attempting to tell the president your over reliance and allegiance to Gordhan is costing you, and the damage is glaring. He is saying to the President, hitherto you have trusted some of us less, because you took ease of comfort in Gordhan, and he is deceiving you. Gordhan is simply bad for you and for ANC government in his current position, unless you actually want to go down with him.

Mabuza in the same vein, reminds us, and the president, “I told the president the problem is maintenance…”, meaning despite Ramaphosa’s 2015 Chairperson status of the Eskom War Room, in which he must have been informed of Eskom’s manifold challenges – he had to be reminded by me [DD Mabuza] of the same. Yet Ramaphosa did not heed my advise, instead  he opted to listen to the man who made him in fundraising for a CR17 campaign. Mabuza in a veiled sense is telling the president, from now on you take what I say serious, because I am your deputy and lead the newly reinstated Eskom War Room. He is inadvertently telling Ramaphosa, it’s time for a cabinet reshuffle because your most trusted lieutenant had sold you out.

Perhaps the biggest thing Mabuza just did was to instruct the president, you will announce a cabinet reshuffle.

Let us hear again how Mabuza is cited in the Sunday Times, second interview: ”I am stiill going to take a meeting with the president, so that we get new direction on what we must do.”  [sic] Notice, it’s him talking about the meeting with the president. Is he calling for the meeting? He is in veiled or overt sense saying new direction will not come from the president in singularity, but he speaks deliberately of ’we.’

Yes, as long advanced, the Nasrec slates which defined ANC leadership in CR17 R1bn campaign that resulted in a 179 votes-victory, has long undergone a metamorphosis, and the dynamics which we read in tectonic plates have shifted, seeing former foes closer, and friends more distant now. We all know Ramaphosa has lost the internal battle of power, and that he has created enemies for a multiplicity of justifiable reasons, among others because he swore an unusual alliance to Pravin Gordhan, at the expense of everything.

The January 8 Statement celebrations was a shoddy and forgetful moment for the ANC. Beyond stadiumology, a contest of which political parties are drawn into contest as to which political party can fill what size of stadium in rally definition, as introduced by the tactical tradition of the Economic Freedom (EFF), the ANC must hang it’s proverbial head in shame that the Tafel Lager stadium, with a maximum capacity of 25000, hardly had 12000 at the moment of Ramaphosa’s address. Clearly the ANC failed, or is a dying organization, kept alive only by the pathetic state of opposition in SA’s body politic.

We shall wait to see if Ramaphosa will show political astuteness, albeit in aim of survival, to make quality decisions that firstly will assist him to pass the legitimacy and trust test.

What is certain, is Mabuza had just exposed the failure and incompetence of Gordhan, while checkmated Ramaphosa  into a forced cabinet reshuffle.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA