South Africa's new President Jacob Zuma (L) congratulates his new minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan as new Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe (C) looks on in Pretoria on May 11, 2009. New South African President Jacob Zuma's cabinet appointments show a willingness to compromise to address the country's deep social and economic woes, local newspapers reported. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE / AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

Zuma vs Pravin: Is it checkmate?

President Jacob Zuma will embark on the biggest political gamble of his career if he follows through on his threat to fire Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas.

Contrary to reports by the Gupta-owned ANN7 on Tuesday, Zuma does not have the support of his five top colleagues in the ANC to get rid of Gordhan after unceremoniously summonsing him back home from an investor roadshow in London.

Zuma told SACP leaders during a bilateral meeting with ANC leaders on Monday that he wants Gordhan and Jonas out. But according to inside witnesses to this unfolding drama, Zuma stands alone: his firing of Gordhan and Jonas will not be supported by his colleagues who make up the ANC’s top six.

This could open the door for a full-out revolt against Zuma in the ANC, not only by known Zuma critics but also by moderate ANC leaders who are deeply concerned about the possibility of the ANC losing the 2019 national election.

It is now widely accepted that Gordhan’s sacking will be followed by the resignation of Cabinet colleagues in solidarity with the finance minister. This could be the least damaging outcome for Zuma. A more severe result would be a fresh motion for Zuma to be recalled at the next meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee, this time with the added support of NEC members who have now accepted that Zuma will lead the party to electoral defeat in 2019.

Some ANC members are even discussing the possibility of voting in favour of a motion of no confidence in Zuma in Parliament, but this will be the last avenue they will pursue to get rid of the president.

It is unclear who called for the meeting, but Gordhan, Jonas and Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile met with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe behind closed doors on Tuesday after being recalled from abroad by Zuma.

The narrative created by the Gupta-owned media that Gordhan and his colleagues were summoned to Luthuli House by ANC leaders and asked to resign is false.

Gordhan and Jonas have no plans to resign and will force Zuma’s hand to act against them. If Zuma follows through with his plans, “he will have to bear the political consequences”.

If Gordhan requested an audience with Mantashe, it is reasonable to assume he would have complained to the ANC party boss about Zuma’s behaviour by calling them back from an authorised overseas trip.

EFF leader Julius Malema, who still has a direct line to top people in Luthuli House, tweeted on Tuesday night that Mantashe informed Gordhan and Jonas they would be fired, but the top ANC officials, including Mantashe, didn’t support the move.

Treasury’s statement in support of the roadshow stopped short of accusing Zuma of sabotaging foreign investment in the government’s service delivery projects.

The million dollar question remains: why did Zuma embarrass Gordhan, Treasury and the country by cutting short an authorised investment roadshow? Why now?

Until Zuma answers these questions we are forced to speculate. In our quest to find the truth, we have been warned: “don’t look for rational, logical explanations. This is not a rational president.”

That is why the most convincing explanation I have heard so far is not steeped in facts or truth, but in conspiracy and paranoia – two subjects our president is particularly fond of.

An anonymous “intelligence note” is doing the rounds, claiming that Gordhan, Jonas and Fuzile were meeting investment bankers during “secret meetings” in the US and UK to start something called “Operation Check Mate” (sic).

“The bankers are going to be told that the Ministry of Finance and Treasury stand together against the president and the corruption of the Guptas. They will also be told that there is a movement to fire (Gordhan, Jonas and Fuzile) by the President.”

Gordhan and his colleagues would supposedly then have asked the banks to fight Zuma.

“They will inform the banks that if they are fired the financial markets in South Africa will collapse and the rand will go to 18 to 20 (sic) to the dollar. They will also tell the banks that they have the support of many in the ANC and other parties to force the President out. By having them all stand together they are attending to show unity so that the UK and USA banks will join in with the South African banks Against (sic) the President,” the note reads.

It is not known if Zuma had seen the note, but intelligence operatives have been concerned for a while that the president was being fed false information to advance certain agendas. The central message of this “note” – that Gordhan and Treasury are colluding with the banks to bring about a change of administration in South Africa – is similar to the narrative advanced by the Gupta-owned media, their spin doctors and paid Twitter.

The fact that Standard Bank and Citi Bank were closely involved in setting up the London meetings would not have helped to calm a paranoid president’s nerves. The fact that Standard Bank cited Zuma in the court case Gordhan brought against the Guptas would have added fuel to this conspiracy fire.

One would have expected Zuma or his State Security Minister David Mahlobo or anyone trained in basic intelligence to have seen the anonymous note for what it is – a rubbish and amateurish attempt to besmirch Gordhan and Treasury.

But these are funny times and we have an unfunny president who is willing to jeopardise the stability and future of our country to protect and promote himself, his family and the Saxonwold Shebeen.

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