NOMPU SIZIBA: Ramaphoria may well have disappeared last year, no sooner that it had started, but there has still remained a glimmer of hope among some that a Cyril Ramaphosa presidency would bode well for dealing with the country’s economic challenges. This, as he’s put in measures to bring in more investment, holding positive summits and speaking in the right policy tones, basically talking the progressive talk.
But, wrangles between ANC senior officials on key policy issues and the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s reports on public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, could result in the president having to fight these type of fires rather than focusing his efforts on ensuring the implementation of policies that seek to begin addressing the country’s challenges. This is essentially what comes out from an article written by independent political analyst Ralph Mathekga, who joins me on the line.
Thanks very much, Ralph, for joining us. The public protector’s report against Pravin Gordhan makes serious allegations and has basically affirmed reports done by the Sunday Times some years ago that the minister was aware of the setting up of the rogue unit. Many have made the observation that President Ramaphosa has remained mum on this. What, in your view, is going on here, given the serious allegations?
RALPH MATHEKGA: Well, the reality of the matter is that this issue is very much politicised. It involves very powerful, influential figures in South Africa, Pravin Gordhan – an influential politician in the ANC within the country, recognised and, I would say respected, – and also President Ramaphosa, an influential person, the president of South Africa who is expected to make a decision regarding Pravin Gordhan, following that report by the public protector.
But, if you look at this issue, the manner in which it is divisive, that’s an area where I think political preferences tend to get muddied due to principle here. The principle is that the public protector has raised concerns about Pravin Gordhan, but the principle also says that there is a recourse, or maybe there is an opportunity to review this. And those are the principles that need to be followed.
What is quite surprising is the demand that the public protector is making – that the president should undertake to implement these within 30 days. I don’t know if these 30 days also include the president having to review this report, or maybe have Gordhan review the report. There is a deep sense or urgency around this issue that is actually not normal, as you would see with other cases. The case is thus very extraordinary, to my mind.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Ralph, what are the possible consequences if President Ramaphosa is seen not to at least be acknowledging what the public protector has said, since he’s been completely mum on this?
RALPH MATHEKGA: If we take a matter of principle, the president cannot ignore the public protector, irrespective of how he or she feels about the public protector. Not a long time ago, on these very same platforms, here in South Africa we were discussing a situation where the president seemed to be deliberately ignoring the PP, to a point where it took litigation to enforce the recommendations of the public protector.
So, in principle, there is a clear expectation that the president has to communicate and state what he is going to do about this. If the president does not do this, it results in a constitutional crisis. The mere idea that people might be suspicious about the validity and the integrity of the public protector does not exonerate us from looking into the matter of principle, which is that there has been a report against a sitting minister, and there has been a request that the president should undertake a certain set of conducts. The president has to do something on that.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Okay, so if the president were to temporarily relieve Pravin Gordhan of his ministerial duties, from quite an important portfolio which oversees the likes of Eskom, while he sorts out the allegations that are being levied against him, what’s the possible backlash there?
RALPH MATHEKGA: The challenge here is that a very strong suspicion exists, to the effect that this report by the public protector has nothing to do with the public interest, are not even factual, there are those who are saying that they are based on conspiracy theories, those who are saying that their goal or the intended objectives of this report are actually to destabilise President Ramaphosa’s cabinet. And if President Ramaphosa moves by just dismissing or suspending Pravin Gordhan, the president will have already started to incur that problem, we will have already been suffering and prejudiced by that suspicious intention of the public protector.
So, what is the best way out of this? The best conduct is not necessarily the removal of Pravin Gordhan, as I see it. It is actually to state an intention to review. There should be an intention to defer to the other branch of government here, to come and mediate this issue that exists between a Chapter Nine institution and the current executive.
The best way to do that is to refer the matter to court. And if the president says that, in that way the president will have indicated that he subscribes to the principle of legality, he subscribes to the terms of constitutional supremacy that demands this kind of conduct. However, he will be watching that and, pending the result of the court, he will be able to see what to do with Pravin Gordhan.
But there is a practical question here. The practical question, which has always preoccupied me in the past about this issue, has been about the wisdom of appointing a minister that you know is a political liability from day one.
NOMPU SIZIBA: So, with the public protector also pointing the finger at President Ramaphosa around his conduct on the Bosasa donation to his campaign fund, do you think he would prefer that she be out of the picture? And, even if that’s the case, what are the chances of that happening? Of course, there have been a lot of complaints about her aptitude and some of her decisions, which we know have been taken on review in court.
RALPH MATHEKGA: The mere fact that the president himself has a case to answer, or a matter to answer in relation to investigations by the public protector, that is the Bosasa issue. That makes issues even more complicated. In all fairness, one cannot ignore the fact that the manner in which the president would will dealing with Pravin Gordhan, one way or another will be influenced or will influence the manner in which he deals with the report into his conduct in relation to the Bosasa issue. That on its own says: “Mr President, to avoid insinuations of conflict of interest, defer this issue to the courts. Those are the ones that can quickly arbitrate on this one.” And for me, that is the most urgent thing. And the more the silence destroys the perception that there is an attempt to deal with this in a different manner which people might not be satisfied with or which people are not privy to the details of.
NOMPU SIZIBA: So, the danger of this story that we are discussing is that it might end up boiling down to factionalism. Do you see Ramaphosa allies moving to remove Mkhwebane through a parliamentary process and, importantly, do you think her conduct puts her beyond reproach?
RALPH MATHEKGA: It is a question of factionalism. There is no doubt about it. And I think I can even go further and make a claim that, had there not been such intense factional battles within the ANC, we wouldn’t be where we are; we would be coherent in terms of leadership within the ANC. What we are seeing is just a simple scenario of the ANC factional background becoming replicated, and institutionalised into government structures and institutions and so forth.
So, as things stand, my reading is that the public protector seems not to be worried about the ANC caucus. Why I’m saying that is that the manner in which she is even framing this report, it is one thing to state the substantive matter and even ask other institutions to help you to establish that effect. But it is quite another to arrive at the conclusion that actually lends itself as an ammunition by a faction that you know already.
In my mind you would have failed to stay out of the factional battle. I’m not saying that the public protector should always concern herself about staying out of a factional battle, but I would say she would be well advised not to walk into that in a manner that could compromise her office.
So, if you look at the caucus, I don’t think the ANC caucus intends to remove the public protector. There seems to be a very high level of confidence and, if you look at that nature of the caucus – we can discuss that another day – I think that the public protector seems to be very confident.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Ralph, what have your thoughts been around the whole spat around the Reserve Bank, among senior ANC officials? And of course the recent Twitter spat on e-tolls between Gauteng premier David Makhura, and finance minister Tito Mboweni? In each case President Ramaphosa has had to call out his colleagues. But, it does seem that he is unable to control his troops, so to speak, from a distance. And if further instances like this occur, what picture does this paint for policy certainty and, crucially, the implementation thereof?
RALPH MATHEKGA: It is quite embarrassing for President Ramaphosa to be having to deal with ministers as if they are kindergarten children. It is quite embarrassing, there is no other way of putting this. Our ministers and senior politicians have allowed their egos to actually prevail upon them. It appears to me that, come the evening, they are tweeting and all that. They get excited and forget the responsibility that they carry, forgetting that there is not always an opportunity to correct their hasty communication of this. It embarrasses the president. If you take into consideration, even the individuals that have differed, David Makhura of Gauteng, Tito Mboweni who is the finance minister, I don’t consider these people to be detractors to the president. It is unfair that he has had to attend to them. I consider them to be aligned to the president’s agenda, whichever way you feel about it, that ANC agenda that is being been pursued by the president.
But, thirdly, they cannot curb their enthusiasm, which shows that if senior members cannot hold it, they show a level of intolerance towards each other publicly. What do you expect for the average Jane or the average Joe on the street who’s dealing with politics? It might make it more difficult for them.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Thanks very much for your time this evening, Ralph.