Tichaona Zindoga, Harare Bureau
SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma was in the eye of a storm last week as he one midnight reshuffled his cabinet and sent a handful of ministers and deputy ministers packing.
The biggest talking point was, of course, the sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas.
The relationship between the President and the minister was completely broken down and outright antagonistic: Gordhan became, lately, a symbol of defiance to President Zuma especially around policy issues and the larger political economy.
Gordhan was largely viewed as a mascot of white monopoly capital and stood in opposition to President Zuma’s attempts at radical transformation of the economy to a more inclusive one.
The ex-finance minister had become so powerful that markets would catch a cold whenever his relationship with the President appeared unhealthy or rather took turns for the worse.
The rand would weaken and rating agencies would junk South Africa.
There was a feeling that if President Zuma sacked Gordhan, the heavens would come crashing down.
It did not exactly happen that way on the night of March 30.
The markets somewhat shook and the Rand weakened.
But the feared and anticipated Armageddon did not take place – or let’s say it has not been catastrophic.
Not least, there was no mass resignation by ministers from cabinet, though this had been threatened.
But there have been robust statements that furthered tensions in the ruling party which finds itself seized with the issue of succession in the run up to an elective conference in December.
Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa is an unhappy man.
He said following the reshuffle: “I am especially unhappy about the firing of Gordhan and his deputy, to which the financial markets will react negatively. I think it is totally unacceptable that he fired someone like Gordhan, who has served the country excellently, for his own gain and survival.
“I find it very difficult to believe that someone like Gordhan, who has served the country with everything he has and so much pride and total honour, planned to besmirch Zuma and his government overseas. The action Zuma has taken against Gordhan is based solely on assumptions.”
Top figures such as ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu and treasurer Zweli Mkhize have made scathing public statements disagreeing with President Zuma.
On the other hand, ANC allies such as Cosatu and the South African Communist Party were equally unhappy and hit out hard at President Zuma.
In fact, as of yesterday afternoon at the time of writing, the ANC top leadership and the likes of Cosatu were discussing the cabinet reshuffle on the basis that President Zuma had not consulted anyone to effect changes, based on a “suspect” intelligence report.
So in all this, is the President in danger?
He is, but not life threatening.
In fact, it is in these times when you see a rather special side of Jacob Zuma: survival.
We are about to witness another survival deluxe from Jacob Zuma, a man who has survived numerous scandals and political pitfalls for the past decade.
And President Zuma will survive this with that charming, disarming smile or smugness.
Perhaps people underestimate President Zuma, a former intelligence supremo for ANC during apartheid.
He surely learnt about survival and how to outwit enemies.
People do not pass him for an educated man but he still has the native intelligence.
Luckily, President Zuma still enjoys the critical support of the Youth and Women’s Leagues – and that means a lot.
It means that after the Gordhan-mania of the past few weeks, South Africa will lead a normal life with Gordhan’s place ceded to Malusi Gigaba.
Gigaba, ex-Home Affairs, is enthusiastic, too.
Opposition to Zuma will continue in and outside the party – with external enemies being somewhat buoyed by latest events and taking to the courts and Parliament to try to force President Zuma out.
Yet, in all this, put your money on JZ surviving – even to 2019.
That is vintage him: and it must be suggested here that the ANC and others may not exactly appreciate how the attacks on the President are in fact an attack on the revolutionary party itself.