Can Gigaba survive Ramaphosa’s biggest test?

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President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Malusi Gigaba in the US. Photo: Twitter

All eyes are on President Cyril Ramaphosa as he faces one of the toughest tests of his presidency: to allow Malusi Gigaba to remain in Cabinet, despite the mounting negative publicity around him, or to fire him.

In a challenge to Ramaphosa, the home affairs minister went on the offensive this weekend, claiming in a number of interviews that he is the innocent victim of a conspiracy to force him out of government.

He also vowed not to resign and to fight to the end.

The real test is whether Ramaphosa has the backbone as a leader and whether he respects the criminal justice system. During a recent investment conference, Ramaphosa bragged about South Africa’s independent judiciary and strong rule of law.

Political analyst Andre Duvenhage said Gigaba’s days were numbered and that the president could be trusted to act against Gigaba – especially now that evidence existed that he had committed the serious crime of lying under oath.

“I have no doubt there will be action. Gigaba is on notice and I believe that his term will be very short,” Duvenhage said.

The analyst said if Ramaphosa were not to act against the minister it would have a negative impact on his leadership and feed into the perception that he was strong on statements, but thin on action.

“Of course, this perception is not completely true because Ramaphosa, unlike US president Donald Trump, does not go straight into a person. He gathers evidence before acting against an individual,” Duvenhage said.

And that evidence has been mounting – to the point that Ramphosa is soon going to have no other option but to limit damage to the ANC and sack Gigaba.

Not only was Gigaba found by the High Court in Pretoria to have lied under oath regarding his granting permission to Fireblade Aviation to open a private terminal at the OR Tambo International Airport, but the Constitutional Court rejected the minister’s appeal on the matter.

Furthermore, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane also found him to have breached the executive ethics code, the constitution and parliamentary code and demanded action from the president.

Gigaba told interviewers he would fight any possible charge of perjury in court, but he preferred to first explain himself before parliament’s ethics committee. He accused the Oppenheimer family – who own Fireblade Aviation – of being “dishonest liars”, a further display of undiplomatic behaviour.

Mkhwebane said Ramaphosa must within 20 days inform her what action he would take against the minister, something that put the president under pressure, as he would not like to be seen behaving like his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who for a long time undermined then public protector Thuli Madonsela’s damning report.

Ramaphosa has promised to study the protector’s report and apply his mind before he announces his course of action.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said not acting against Gigaba would open up Ramaphosa to criticism that he was wobbly on corruption and complicit in Gigaba’s sins.

However, it is rare for a minister to be directly shown the door under ANC rule. Instead, the president could use the opportunity to announce a cabinet reshuffle to replace both Gigaba and the late environmental affairs minister, Edna Molewa.

He could also go further and remove Minister for Women in the Presidency Bathabile Dlamini, who, like Gigaba, was found to have lied under oath over the South African Security Agency’s grant saga. Dlamini was asked to pay 20% of the legal costs for the applicant, Black Sash, and intervening party, Freedom Under Law, in her personal capacity.

With her finding and recommendation, the public protector made it easy for Ramaphosa to act against Gigaba. Similarly, SA Revenue Service inquiry judge Robert Nugent provided Ramaphosa with ammunition that has already led to the dismissal of former Sars commissioner Tom Moyane.

While Ramaphosa would face a problem in removing Dlamini due to her influence as president of the ANC Women’s League, he could not selectively deal with Gigaba and leave out Dlamini.

Duvenhage told The Citizen he expected Gigaba to fight to the bitter end to keep his position in government.

“He will use every tactic and strategy to survive. He may even take refuge with his fellows in the Zuma camp and join them to form their own group,” he said.

Eric Naki / The Citizen