ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

AFRICAN National Congress (ANC) treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize has provided an insider’s account of the series of events that took place in the period leading up to former finance minister Des van Rooyen’s replacement by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

In a letter to Business Day, Mr Mkhize insists the president took the decision on his own after consultations with a wide range of people including the leadership of the ANC. He complains that the suggestion he played a leading role in the switch “creates unnecessary tensions and can only be divisive. It is unfair to project one person as a saviour when clearly the decision is that oft-quoted ‘prerogative’ made by the president.

“The direct attention placed on my name is extremely uncomfortable, quite inaccurate and unfair both to me and the president. Irrespective of how many people he would have consulted before the decision is made, it is the president who appoints ministers.”

Mr Mkhize wrote the letter in response to a column headlined, “Mkhize to thank for Zuma turnaround” by Business Day’s Peter Bruce, in which he attempted to unravel the sequence of events in the weekend before Mr Gordhan’s appointment.

Mr Bruce suggested Mr Zuma’s change of mind might have been in response to warnings by ANC leaders, in particular Mr Mkhize, at a meeting on Sunday “that they would not be able to support him as leader of the ANC should he fail to reverse his decision”.

The loss of Mr Mkhize’s support would have damaged Mr Zuma significantly in KwaZulu-Natal, previously under the premiership of Mr Mkhize. “Zuma didn’t change his mind because his close party colleagues made him see the error of his ways. The president simply bowed to the politics of the moment,” Mr Bruce wrote.

But Mr Mkhize rejects the article’s assertions. “It is not true that I exerted pressure or threatened the president to change his mind. This is quite preposterous! No individual ANC member has the power to threaten or put pressure to the incumbent or any other president of the ANC.… The assumption that pressure was applied … creates an impression that the president is incapable of any independent thought.”

Mr Mkhize notes that as soon as the negative reaction of the markets became evident, Mr Zuma consulted stakeholders and leaders in the ANC and the rest of the tripartite alliance over a couple of days.

“Already, by Sunday morning president Zuma had taken the decision to replace minister van Rooyen and he spent the day consulting on finalising the name of the new minister…. On his own, President Zuma took the decision to do the cabinet reshuffle after his own process of evaluating facts before him.”

The meeting with the banking sector took place on the Sunday evening, Mr Mkhize writes, and it was one of the last consultations in which he and Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, were involved. “President Zuma did not meet with the bankers, but was aware of the meeting with the banks before it was convened and was fully briefed after its conclusion. There is no doubt that he took the concerns of the market seriously.”