Is ‘outspoken’ Jackson Mthembu SA’s unlikely hero? Donwald Pressly investigates…

Sometimes the heroes come from the most unlikely sources. And in this case hero may be a strong word so early on but at least ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has taken a stand. He recently spoke out against senior leadership within the party – joining a long chorus of business leaders and former ANC stalwarts. His call, as the others, are likely to fall on deaf ears but it does highlight the growing dissent within the ruling party. And Mthembu is a relative newbie having replaced Stone Sizani as the ruling partys chief whip in March this year. He was also only elected to parliament in 2014. And one wonders how much longer hell serve the party after his latest outburst. Donwald Pressly investigates. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.
Donwald Pressly

African National Congress chief whip Jackson Mthembu is one of the most unlikely would-be political heroes. But his statements calling for the resignations of the top six – including President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – is downright shockwave politics.

Will he survive this? It is really hard to tell. But he appears to have opened the door to his own political demise saying that all the current leaders should resign. That did not exclude himself. He specifically said so.

Most telling of all was when Mthembu – a former national spokesman of the ANC – was asked whether he would allow a free vote in the upcoming no-confidence motion to be brought by the DA in the national assembly, he said that “when the time comes, the ANC will deal with it”. He did not say outright that the party would use its three-line whip to ensure that a vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma would be defeated. It is very telling indeed.

Most significantly Mthembu has backed Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan right through the present crisis. After Gordhan was charged with fraud by the National Prosecuting Authority, he said that Gordhan was “an honest person”. He also said Gordhan was “a disciplined cadre and a wonderful finance minister”. Gordhan was charged earlier this month for allowing deputy SA Revenue Service commissioner Ivan Pillay to be retired and rehired. This has been labelled fraud.

Truly compelling political move

Mthembu is the chief ‘policeman’ of the ANC caucus – 62% of the seats in the national assembly belong to the governing party. It is he who ensures that ANC are in the house for votes and it is he who – together with the other ANC whips – ensures that ANC positions are supported by all MPs. For him to break ranks is a truly compelling political move.

Jackson Mthembu. Photo courtesy of Twitter @SundayTimesZA
Jackson Mthembu. Photo courtesy of Twitter @SundayTimesZA

He told City Press that the public had lost confidence in the ANC “because of factional behaviour, because of arrogance, and now, under our watch, a sitting minister is spuriously charged with fraud”. He told the eNCA: “Perhaps we are not the leadership that can take the ANC forward.”

What is so remarkable about the current political game in which the president ducks the courts even though there are over 700 fraud charges lurking in the background. He has managed to brazen his way through the wave of criticism about “state capture” in which the Gupta family stand accused of having immense power of him. He stands accused of even having ceded his presidential right to appoint cabinet ministers. There is much speculation that the Guptas want Pravin Gordhan out.

Where this game will end, it is hard to tell. In a urgent application – lodged by the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law – seeking to review, set aside and declare unlawful charges which have been brought against Gordhan by the National Prosecuting Authority, the charges are described as being “without any merit”. The unsustainability of the charges “is an issue which has been pointed out to the first to fourth respondents repeatedly and yet the first to fourth respondents persist in their actions”. The papers continue the argument: “The only reasonable inference to be drawn from this is that the charges are being pursued for purposes other than those set forth in the empowering provision or in legislation.” The two organisations say that quite apart from ulterior purposes… there is a myriad of further grounds of review which vitiate the charges and the impugned decisions. These include error of law, error of fact, abuse of discretion, failure to consider relevant considerations and irrationality.”

The first respondent is the national director of public prosecutions, the second respondent Dr JP Pretorius SC, the third respondent is Sibongile Mzinyathi and the fourth respondent , the National Prosecuting Authority.

The NPA’s press conference resembled a show trial

The two organisations say the urgency of their action “is exacerbated by the fact that the uncertainty over Minister Gordhan’s future is causing political and economic instability, with suggestions that Minister Gordhan must be removed or step down by virtue of the charges”. The organisations note that R50 billion was wiped off the Johannesburg Securities Exchange after the fraud charge announcement. The two organisations reported that when the charges were announced on 11 October “at a bizarre press conference reminiscent of a show trial” – held by the national director of public prosecutions Shawn Abrahams – this amount was wiped off “almost immediately”. This highlighted the national importance of the matter “which concerns not only the liberty and dignity of the individual but also the economy of the republic”. This – the economy and the nation’s democracy – is what Mthembu was defending.

When – or if – Gordhan does appear on 2 November at the Pretoria High Court, there is likely to be a groundswell of support for him from reasonable people in the land. Even Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters have promised to march in favour of Gordhan.

Court action, mass action and parliamentary action may combine to rearrange the ANC leadership with President Zuma moving into speedily into retirement. But Zuma is a crafty individual, he may defeat all these protest processes – and, indeed, the sudden hero of the moment Mthembu – once again.

  • Donwald Pressly is editor of Cape Messenger
(Visited 47 times, 1 visits today)