ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

I MAKE reference to Peter Bruce’s column (How Zweli Mkhize brought Jacob Zuma to his senses, January 15). At the outset, may I place on record that I believe the article to be factually incorrect. The part of the article in relation to me is certainly not true. While Mr Bruce has a right to base his article on assumptions, I wish to exercise my right to respond and clarify the matter as I know it.

I am one of those who believe that this matter has already been given more than adequate attention in factual and speculative media reports, analysis columns and other editorial spaces. It is my view that we need to put it behind us and move on as a country. I certainly never had a wish to be dragged into the public debate on this matter. Mr Bruce may consider his article a sincere effort to tie up loose ends on this matter. I have a different view. The direct attention placed on my name is extremely uncomfortable, quite inaccurate and unfair both to me and President Jacob Zuma.

In responding to this column I think it is important to state that there was no discussion between Mr Bruce and myself on the subject prior to him writing the column. While he has not suggested that there was any discussion with me, his speculation has the risk of making people further speculate on the basis that "there is no smoke without fire". If there was information upon which such speculation may have been based, it is clear that the sources of such do not have a good knowledge of the facts about this issue, or a clear understanding of the internal workings of the African National Congress (ANC).

As soon as the negative reaction of the market (to the replacement of Nhlanhla Nene with Desmond van Rooyen) became evident, Mr Zuma engaged in consultations for a couple of days with various stakeholders and leaders in the ANC and alliance. Already by Sunday morning Mr Zuma had taken the decision to replace Mr van Rooyen, and he spent the day consulting on finalising the name of the new minister. This matter was finalised and ministers were briefed late on Sunday. Officials and leaders of the ANC who, like myself, were consulted, had no mandate to divulge such a sensitive engagement on a matter of a presidential executive decision. On his own, Mr Zuma took the decision to do the Cabinet reshuffle after his own process of evaluating facts before him.

The president had been reviewing his decision long before the engagement with the private sector happened. The meeting with the banking sector took place on Sunday evening. It was among the last consultations in which I and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe were involved. This meeting was dignified and was managed professionally and respectfully as the bankers gave a detailed analysis of the serious financial situation the country had to manage. There was a deep sense of patriotism and no hostility, although deep concern was expressed. It was a meeting the ANC leaders took seriously; they appreciated the input and honest engagement of the private sector in this regard. The meeting has boosted the partnership between the private sector and policy makers that is so sorely needed in the country.

Mr Zuma did not meet the bankers, but was aware of the meeting before it convened and was fully briefed after its conclusion. There is no doubt that he took the concerns of the market seriously.

It is incorrect to ascribe the reappointment of Pravin Gordhan only to that meeting, as there were several engagements before it upon which the president was already acting.

The ANC leadership was involved in the consultative process and applauded Mr Zuma for acting swiftly to restore market confidence. Mr Bruce’s speculation did not acknowledge any of these aspects.

With due respect to Mr Bruce, there is certainly no reason why anyone should isolate and singularly be grateful to Zwelini Mkhize. Such a notion is erroneous, misleading and creates unnecessary tension. It can only be divisive. It is unfair to project one person as a saviour when clearly the decision was that oft quoted "prerogative" of the president. Irrespective of how many people he may have consulted before the decision is made, it is the president who appoints ministers.

Mr Bruce’s comments undermine the president. I object to this approach, even as I accept that in our constitutional democracy everyone has a right to disagree with any decision the president may make.

It is not true that I exerted pressure or threatened the president to change his mind on the ministerial appointment. This is quite preposterous! No individual ANC member has the power to threaten or put pressure on the incumbent or any other president of the ANC. No leader of the ANC has a block of personal support to use in pressurising the president. Neither do I. The assumption that pressure was applied to the president creates an impression that he is incapable of independent thought. Mr Zuma is the president of the ANC and as president of the country still enjoys the confidence of the party. This explains why he continues to serve in that position. Such a president cannot be subject to the pressures and whims of a single individual.

I am a disciplined member of the ANC and I have known the president over a considerable period. The kind of engagement described by Mr Bruce is foreign to me, the president and the leadership of the ANC. I have never witnessed it in my entire life as a member of the ANC.

Engagements are frank and robust in the ANC. Similarly, my relationship with the president has been cordial, characterised by comradely respect and open discussions, with freedom to express a contrary view and devoid of any grandstanding. Many ANC leaders would share the same description.

I also take serious exception to Mr Bruce’s reference to any of my colleagues as "leeches". I am interested to know who he was referring to. This comment is disrespectful towards the leaders in the ANC. If I misinterpreted his reference, he would do well to clarify.

Dr Zwelini Mkhize
ANC treasurer-general