A Sunday Times article‚ it turns out‚ may have pushed President Jacob Zuma to get rid of his trusted finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
At a media briefing on Wednesday‚ ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe suggested that a newspaper article referring to “President Gordhan” had contributed to tensions between Zuma and Gordhan.
Mantashe said the article was published around the time of the World Economic Forum in Davos‚ Switzerland‚ which took place in January this year.
“Just to highlight this tension … I don’t know if you remember … when a South African delegation went to the World Economic Forum‚ there was a big article here‚ which was talking about Pravin and said we can as well call him President Gordhan‚” Mantashe said.
“If you remember that article‚ you will appreciate the tensions between a minister and a president.”
“It’s ‘President Gordhan’ at Davos‚” the headline of the article read. It was published in the Business Times section of the Sunday Times.
The article quotes political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi‚ who said Gordhan had stepped into the leadership gap left by the president.
But the Sunday Times was not the only newspaper that put Gordhan and the word “president” in the same sentence.
The Mail & Guardian in November asked the question: “Pravin for president?” That article happened to coincide with Zuma confiding in the ANC’s top leadership that his relationship with Gordhan was on the rocks‚ according to ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte.
Mantashe’s revelations this week came after an extended meeting of the ANC’s national working committee (NWC)‚ which had endorsed Zuma’s reasons for firing Gordhan.
Mantashe backtracked from statements made last week‚ in which he had criticised Zuma's cabinet reshuffle‚ which he said had happened without proper consultation.
On Wednesday Mantashe said there had been an “irretrievable breakdown” in Zuma and Gordhan’s relationship‚ which had been the main reason for his axing.
He downplayed earlier references to an intelligence report‚ which had accused Gordhan of plotting against the government.
“It makes life difficult for the minister and it makes life difficult for the president. That we appreciated. So‚ I don’t want to come here and pretend as if we heard on Monday about the president who is unhappy because there’s an intelligence report‚” Mantashe told journalists.
“That’s why we can boldly say‚ if the president gave an explanation of the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship – that would have made more sense. The intelligence report complicated the matter. It is us who say so.”
He said the deterioration in the relationship was akin to a divorce.
“The only people who can give you details of that relationship are people in that relationship.”