Pravin Gordhan, a loyal public servant, currently serving as
Minister of Public Enterprises, celebrates his 70th birthday today.
It’s been a long and, often times, hard road for Gordhan –
particularly under the dubious Jacob Zuma years. Gordhan’s political career
spans almost three decades and has seen him navigate some hairy situations, beginning
in 1993 when he was appointed to the panel tasked with transitioning South
Africa into a democratic state.
Possessing only a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, a hardy
exterior and some reliable political allies, Gordhan has managed to hold onto
his position of influence, while many of his colleagues, lured by the promises
of unimaginable riches, power and infamy, have fallen off the proverbial wagon.
No birthday invite for Jacob Zuma
For Gordhan, the ebb and flow of the feisty political playing field came to a head in 2014 and again in 2017. Former President Jacob Zuma initially took a liking to Gordhan, appointing him as Finance Minister upon his ascension to the throne in 2009. For the first few years, the relationship remained professional and amicable – Gordhan trying his utmost to plug leaks in the budget bag, while Zuma stood chuckling in the shadows, leather punch in hand.
In 2014, the African National Congress (ANC) suffered a noticeable
drop in support, largely due to public dissatisfaction with Zuma. Still,
Msholozi was afforded a second term, a term which would come to signify the
darkest of times for post-apartheid South Africa.
Despite performing his financial duties efficiently, Gordhan
was replaced by Nhlanhla Nene, and was repositioned as Minister of Cooperative
Governance and Traditional Affairs; strange years those were. Nene was
eventually replaced, too, but not before spending some quality time with the Gupta
brothers in Saxonwold. He wasn’t a bad guy but in the spurious war of ethical accountability
in South African politics, good guys – or, at least, the bad but not-so-bad – are
often the first to fall. Sacrificial lamb served on a Saxonwold skewer.
The many lives of Pravin Gordhan
Gordhan, likely flummoxed by the world of Traditional
Affairs, made an abrupt reappearance as Finance Minister less than a year later;
the result of one of Zuma’s infamous cabinet reshuffles. The deck certainly lay
strange; David van Rooyen replaced Nene, presumably after the money man felt
that he was getting in too deep with the Gupta rot and exerted a bit of
pushback. Van Rooyen, who came so far out of the left field he was barely in
the same stadium, lasted only four days as Minister.
Gordhan was back in the pound seat but the honeymoon was over. In 2017, at the height of State Capture unravelling, Gordhan, along with his trusty sidekick, Mcebisi Jonas, was dismissed during a major cabinet reshuffle. Malusi Gigaba was appointed as Finance Minister, then Home Affairs Minister, and we all know how that eventually came to a head.
Cyril Ramaphosa took over the presidential reins in 2018 – better late than never – and brought back old pal Nene. It was during the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that Nene was caught in a lie about the Guptas and duly slunk away from political affairs entirely.
Public Enterprises, a poisoned chalice
Ramaphosa swiftly handed Gordhan a poisoned chalice, the position
of Minister of Public Enterprises. The New Dawn, preceded by years of prolonged
darkness, looked good but was, ultimately, doomed from the start.
By the time Gordhan arrived back on the scene, State Capture
had ravaged almost every single state owned enterprise, not only by fleecing
budgetary allowances but also by deploying compromised cadres to executive positions,
to ensure that the cogs of corruption kept turning smoothly.
Happy Birthday, Pravin Gordhan
Today, of all days, should be a time for Gordhan to sit back, relax, crack open a bottle of scotch and reflect on all the good he has done for South Africa. The dire condition of public enterprises, especially Eskom, has, however, undoubtedly damped any sense of pride and accomplishment. After all, you’re only as good as your last performance.
Here are some of the reasons why Gordhan’s birthday party is
likely to be a damp squib.
Eskom’s high-risk load shedding warning
Undoubtedly the greatest cause of Gordhan’s hair loss is Eskom’s bumbling incompetence which, at this point, seems to know no bounds. After already costing the country’s economy in excess of R20 billion in 2019 alone, frustrating and disrupting the already-frantic daily routine of South Africans and generally intensifying socioeconomic anxieties, Eskom promised to do better.
These promises, echoed by Gordhan and his Technical Review Team, are holding on by a meagre thread. Despite assurances, Eskom has issued a high-risk warning of Stage 1 load shedding, due to
Eskom is the greatest threat to South Africa’s socioeconomic
progress and stability. Try as he might, Gordhan, whose job it is to pull
embattled public enterprises out of the mud, is struggling to undo the damage
done during the Zuma years, particularly within the context of Eskom.
Hopefully Gordhan has 70 candles at the ready, so that, at
the very least, he can see in the dark when load shedding hits and unbundling sends
hordes of trade unionists to his door.
Of all the things one hopes to be gifted on their birthday,
a subpoena to appear in court is definitely not at the top of the list. Unfortunately
for Gordhan, this is exactly what he’s been given, courtesy of Public Protector
The summons deals with controversial investigations into the
mythical “rogue unit” at Sars.
Even though the investigation was closed by former Public
Protector, Thuli Madonsela, a revitalisation effort – spearheaded by the
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who, by the way, are unlikely to receive invites
to Gordhan’s birthday bash – has forced the minister to file an affidavit by 24
Mkhwebane has acted on a complaint from EFF deputy president,
Floyd Shivambu. This, despite reports on the fabled “rogue unit” being declared
“inaccurate, misleading, and unfair” by the press ombudsman. The Sunday Times,
which initially ran the report, was forced to apologise.
Even though the HAWKS have also abandoned their investigative efforts into the matter… Happy Birthday, Pravin Gordhan.