President Cyril Ramaphosa has seemingly deflected criticism of two of his most important lieutenants during the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting in which the two were expected to face condemnation over their handling of plans to turn around the economy and state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
The ANC dedicated two days of its lekgotla to a special (NEC) meeting to discuss ailing parastatals.
Sources who attended the meeting told News24 that the anticipated call for Pravin Gordhan to be removed as public enterprises minister was met with a “lukewarm” response.
Gordhan has been at the centre of growing tensions within the ruling party over his management of Eskom. Calls for Gordhan to be axed have largely been seen as part of a proxy war against Ramaphosa.
Gordhan’s relationship with deputy president David Mabuza has also soured, three high-ranking party insiders told News24.
One source said Mabuza felt isolated by Gordhan.
The party insider with ties to Mabuza said Gordhan had at times broken the chain of command and gone straight to Ramaphosa on matters related to Eskom, instead of first reporting to Mabuza, who heads up the war room on the power utility.
Talks of tension between the two men first surfaced when Mabuza – speaking on the sidelines of an ANC 8 January event – told journalists that the president was misled before he promised there would be no load shedding from 17 December until 13 January.
Following the main 8 January rally, ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini told News24 Eskom should be moved from Gordhan’s public enterprises portfolio to Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
In February 2019, Ramaphosa appointed Mabuza to lead a special cabinet committee into the state of affairs at Eskom.
An NEC member told News24 that only two members called for Gordhan’s removal during the NEC meeting.
IOL reported that Mosebenzi Zwane asked why the ANC treated Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Gordhan as “super-ministers”, with Bongani Bongo saying Gordhan – who he has accused of orchestrating his arrest – declined a meeting suggested by Ramaphosa.
Zwane and Bongo, who have been implicated in allegations of corruption at the state capture inquiry, were known lieutenants of former president Jacob Zuma.
“The call for Pravin really did not rouse anyone. Comrades didn’t engage. Most of us are keeping our eyes on the ball. We can’t be drawn into factional infighting when the bigger battle is getting our economy back into stable grounds and building a capable state,” one high-ranking NEC member said.
Another party member who sits on the NEC said that calls for Mboweni to face disciplinary action were more inflamed.
Mboweni recently came under fire after tweeting that the resolution the party reached at its watershed Nasrec conference on nationalising the South African Reserve Bank was wrong.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Mboweni warned of doom if the country could not “effect deep structural economic reforms”.
A source said the minister’s words were harshly criticised at the NEC meeting, with many calling for Mboweni to face a disciplinary committee.
Mboweni was absent during the onslaught as he had left the country to represent Ramaphosa at the UK-Africa Investment Conference in London, England, as well as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Tito crossed the line. He holds a key ministry and his words even on social media hold weight. Many comrades felt he was ill-disciplined. You have to remember that this is not the first time. There were calls for him to be removed but the president said he was not the only one tweeting dissent and this needed to be stopped,” a party leader said.
In another series of rants on Sunday following the NEC meeting, Mboweni posted: “Those who have no new ideas, hide behind name-calling and refer to those who bring up new ways of thinking, the mindset changers as ill-disciplined. That is an old Stalinist way of politics. Change your mindset. Politically Therapeutic! Move with the times.”
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule told journalists on Sunday there were no turf wars fought during the NEC meeting, adding that it was the “best NEC we had”.
He said Ramaphosa emphasised discipline and unity.
On the first day of its lekgotla – attended by director generals, mayors, premiers, ministers as well as alliance partners – Gordhan, economic sub-committee chair Enoch Godongwane and economist Neva Makgetla presented separate reports.
News24 understands that Gordhan outlined some of the key objectives for the power utility.
An official who listened to the presentation said Gordhan spoke about increasing capability at Eskom by recruiting senior engineers as the power utility currently has engineering staff with only two to five years’ experience.
“Comrade Gordhan’s plans were sound and we agreed with him on various issues.”
The source added that Gordhan emphasised the need for Eskom to start allowing private electricity generators and private equity partners.