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Gordhan vs Malema

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We are witnessing a clash of the titans between potentially three political giants while the country is gripped in an economic crisis

Minister Pravin Gordhan at the State Capture Inquiry. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

THERE is a saying: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” In South Africa’s bruising political landscape, that saying could not be further from the truth.

We are witnessing a clash of the titans between potentially three political giants while the country is gripped in an economic crisis.

The EFF has accused Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises, of corruption. The party believes his daughter, Anisha Gordhan, allegedly benefited from government tenders during his time as minister of finance.

The EFF’s Commander in Chief, Julius Malema, and his lieutenant, Floyd Shivambu, stand accused of being part of the looting that collapsed VBS Mutual Bank, a black-owned financial services institution designed to cater to the needs of the rural poor.

Gordhan and the EFF’s bitter battle is exacerbating the country’s economic woes. On the face of it, President Cyril Ramaphosa appears to be caught in the crossfire.

Considering the political mudslinging, it’s perplexing why Ramaphosa has not condemned the EFF or thrown his weight behind Gordhan, a minister and MP he fought to be re-appointed.

Gordhan has been a staunch ally of Ramaphosa, to whom he owes, in part, his political longevity.

Surprisingly, Ramaphosa has steered clear from the fallout with Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s parliamentary chief whip, coming to Gordhan’s defence. Mthembu asked on Thursday why the ANC has not come out in defence of Gordhan who now appears to be increasingly isolated within his own party.

Would it be far-fetched in wondering if the EFF has some sort of hold over Ramaphosa as Gordhan’s supporters believe Ramaphosa is scared of the EFF?

Only time will tell what the overall implications of the Gordhan versus the EFF feud will be for all parties involved. Ordinary citizens are fed-up with corruption, cronyism, politicians’ family members benefiting from government contracts, or fake revolutionaries who enrich themselves under the guise of fighting for the people.

The long-standing feud between the EFF and Gordhan can be traced back to the days of former president Jacob Zuma’s administration in 2011 when Limpopo, on the brink of financial collapse, was placed under administration when Gordhan was serving as finance minister. One of the provincial departments placed under administration was Roads and Transport where Pinky Kekana, a staunch ally of Malema and deputy minister of communications, served as MEC.

Cassel Mathale, then premier of Limpopo and ally of Malema, was stripped of his powers and redeployed by the ANC in 2013.

During that process, Malema faced sequestration from the SA Revenue Service and was almost removed from Parliament.

He felt he was being unfairly targeted by Gordhan. He lamented that there were other cases, far worse.

Malema lost some of his assets, including a farm in Limpopo and a mansion in Sandton, which undoubtedly left a bitter taste. Following the rise of the EFF, Zuma’s dealings with the Guptas were laid bare, his son, Duduzane, was implicated in a series of scandals in which he was accused of doing business with the state via Gupta-owned companies.

Fast forward to 2018. Most of South Africa’s political heavyweights and their children and relatives have been implicated and accused of profiting from doing business with government in spectacularly similar fashion to Zuma and Duduzane. Every week, more skeletons fall from that closet and it is proving difficult to bury. The ANC is struggling to remain unified ahead of next year’s general elections as accusations and finger-pointing among ANC cadres in government continue to mount at the state capture commission of inquiry. By agreeing to the terms of reference of the Zondo Commission, the ANC effectively put itself on trial.

It is no secret that Ramaphosa, when he became president, following the defeat of the Zuma faction of the ANC at Nasrec, wanted Malema back at the ANC. Malema, a skilled orator who can rile up the masses with his charisma, is studying towards a Master’s degree at Unisa, putting many of his peers who ridiculed him for failing woodwork in high school to shame, academically.

Through his political wheeling and dealing, Malema has managed to propel the likes of Kekana, who once stood accused of abusing her political authority to settle political scores for him, to be appointed as deputy minister of communications in Ramaphosa’s government.

While the war rages on and “the grass suffers”, it looks like the EFF has several aces up its sleeve which would explain why Gordhan has been hung out to dry and left to fight his own political battles.

Whichever way one chooses to look at it, the president is caught in-between Gordhan and the EFF.

In order to protect himself from the EFF, will Gordhan end up being collateral damage?