Gordhan Dares Zuma: Fire Me, Because I'm Not Going Anywhere

The minister of finance is digging in his heels, national Treasury is battening down the hatches and South Africans are holding their collective breaths.

If President Jacob Zuma wants to get rid of Pravin Gordhan he will have to fire him and take responsibility for the consequences -- the minister of finance will not resign.

That is the unequivocal and clear message from 40 Church Square in Pretoria, headquarters of national Treasury, after 48 hours of political drama during which speculation of Gordhan's removal from Cabinet and a broader reshuffle of the executive went into overdrive.

According to two sources with intimate knowledge of Treasury's tactics, Gordhan knows Zuma wants to get rid of both him and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. They, along with their senior staff, have, however, decided "not to walk away from this battle" -- and that the next move belongs to the president.

"If Zuma wants Gordhan and Jonas to go, he will have to fire them. They will not leave ... and there is pressure on them to resign. The ball is in his court," a source with direct knowledge of discussions at Treasury told Huffington Post South Africa.

Another first-hand source said Gordhan was "steadfast" in his conviction to remain at post and that he "reassured" Treasury staff of their shared mission and responsibilities.

Also on Tuesday:

  • Treasury went on the offensive, releasing a detailed statement about the cancelled international investors' roadshow and warning about the consequences of higher borrowing costs;
  • Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, tweeted that Gordhan was told by Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), that he and Jonas will be fired; and
  • Gordhan and Jonas made a defiant public appearance, attending proceedings at the minister's application being heard at the High Court in Pretoria, where he is challenging the Guptas.

According to HuffPost's sources, the under-fire Gordhan will dig in his heels, mobilising public and political support by emphasising the rule of law and the imperative of sound and prudent management of the fiscus to the benefit of all South Africans.

The Guptas' news channel, ANN7, earlier reported that Zuma has decided to fire Gordhan, while Bloomberg cited sources in the South African Communist Party (SACP) saying Zuma has already informed its leadership of the planned Cabinet changes. There has been no communication from the presidency and spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga has not answered any calls.

Discussions on Tuesday afternoon at Treasury apparently centred around the president's determination to get rid of the minister and deputy minister and the African National Congress' (ANC) negative reaction to it. The party's leadership -– it is uncertain who exactly relayed the message -– allegedly told Zuma his choice of Brian Molefe as replacement was unacceptable.

"The ANC, however, does not have a uniform position on who should replace Gordhan if he indeed goes," one source said.

The source added Gordhan and Jonas' visit to the High Court was designed to show they are still in charge at Treasury, as a show of strength and unity and that they take ownership of the legal action challenging the Guptas, the controversial family close to Zuma.

Treasury's statement was also carefully and purposefully crafted, explaining the importance of the overseas visit, giving insight into questions asked by foreign investors and fund managers and explaining the impact of political instability on government's borrowing abilities.

Gordhan met with 60 representatives of eight fund managers and 28 other investors in London and was asked about economic growth, fiscal management and political instability.

The meeting lasted eight hours.

"Investors expressed concerns about the political environment and the risk that it could divert attention from setting policies aimed at accelerating growth and creating more work opportunities. They were also curious about the processes leading to the policy conference of the governing party and the electoral conference in December," the statement says.

It goes on to explain the cost of government's borrowing needs is influenced by how investors perceive South Africa. This informs ratings agencies, which helps determine the cost at which the country can finance shortfalls.

"This is money that will contribute towards the building of public infrastructure -– roads, schools, health facilities, etc. –- to deliver better public services to 55-million South Africans," says Treasury. "One of the clear benefits of the roadshows is that South Africa is one of very few countries that do not have to meet investors before issuing an international bond. In other words, government is able to raise amounts as high as $3-billion within a matter of three to five hours."

Yolisa Tyantsi, Gordhan's spokesperson, told HuffPost SA on Tuesday Gordhan's diary looks "normal" and that he is engaged in standard Treasury business.

5 During the discussion Gwede confirmed that Zuma wants Brian Molefe as Finance Minister.

— Julius Sello Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) March 28, 2017

Derek KEYS

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