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<div> | Pravin Gordhan 'not untouchable'</div>

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2016-02-23 06:00

Max du Preez

If thependulum swings too far and too fast, the whole contraption collapses.

The pendulumin the ANC and the Cabinet has indeed swung after Nenegate on December 9 lastyear and the economic realists now undoubtedly have more strategic power thanthe Zuma inner circle.

But theexpectation of especially the business sector that minister of finance PravinGordhan has carte blanche and that tomorrow’s budget will represent afundamental shift away from previous ANC position is perhaps unrealistic.

Gordhan’sstrong position is due to the catastrophic aftermath of the firing of NhalnhlaNene and the appointment of Des van Rooyen, the vulnerability of the economyand the national obsession to avoid the country getting downgraded to junkstatus.

Gordhan thushas the support of the more sober, pragmatic minds in the ANC, led by deputypresident Cyrl Ramaphosa, but he is not as untouchable as some commentatorsbelieve. He has no constituency other than his obvious talent, skills andexperience at a time we need that most at the Treasury.

There can belittle doubt by now why Nene was fired and Van Rooyen hired. Nene stood up tothe Zuma inner circle and their friends and resisted their abuse of state ownedenterprises, tenders and contracts.

The Zumagrouping was irritated that a little guy like Nene tried to prevent them fromplundering the Treasury. Van Rooyen was the choice of the Premier League, aZuma support structure led by the premiers of the Free State, Northwest andMpumalanga, and of their Gupta allies.

It has sincebecome known that Van Rooyen had hired two Gupta insiders weeks before hisappointment to serve as his advisers at the Treasury.

Zuma hadobviously overplayed his hand badly and we can state today that it was hisbiggest blunder in his political career, probably the beginning of hispremature end as president.

But we wouldmake a grave mistake if we think the incredibly wide network of patronage thatZuma has established the last seven years was suddenly emasculated. We’retalking many billions of rand and serious vested interests here, far too muchto simply let slip away.

Even afterthe power shift in December the Zuma-Gupta complex steamed ahead unperturbedwith contracts, appointments and transactions in the mining and otherindustries.

The Zumaagents in the National Prosecuting Authority and the Revenue Service has insimilar vein continued with their shenanigans as if nothing had changed.

Gordhan is abrave man. He has been tickling the lion’s testicles for weeks now with hisstatements on corruption, nepotism and the management of state ownedenterprises. He even went as far as snubbing the Guptas and ordering their tiesto state institutions to be probed.

He mustsurely be the Zuma-Gupta Complex’s Enemy Number One today. (Could Zuma’sstatement yesterday that Van Rooyen was the best-qualified finance ministerever appointed be a sideswipe at Gordhan?)

Gordhanobviously understands how precarious his position is. He has spent his entireadult life inside the ANC and has witnessed many power struggles and factionfights.

He simplydoesn’t have enough maneuvering room to announce large-scale privatization andsharp cuts in social spending as the business sector is demanding, even if hewanted to.

The populardemand, also from inside the ANC, is for radical economic transformation.Gordhan can’t go too far the other way. On top of that, we’re a few months awayfrom the local elections and his party is under severe pressure.

We canexpect that Gordhan will push the boundaries of what is possible, but we haveto understand where those boundaries are. If he goes too far beyond them, hewill walk into a wall of resistance.

Gordhan’sstrongest argument is that if we didn’t take unpopular steps now, we don’t onlyface junk status, but the real possibility that we will soon have to, cap inhand, to ask the International Monetary Fund to bail us out.

The IMF’sconditions for such a bailout will be much, much worse than anything Gordhancould come up with tomorrow.

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