In the space of few days, just before South Africa’s Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, was to appear in court on charges of fraud, the reputations of President Jacob Zuma and the country’s National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, were dealt damaging blows.
In an impromptu press conference on October 31, a day of Halloween that might haunt Abrahams for years to come, the National Director of Public Prosecutions announced that he was withdrawing the charges against Gordhan, along with those against two former employees of South African Revenue Services (SARS), Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula. From the word go, many suspected the charges were trumped up and politically motivated.
In a long-winded speech at the NPA’s headquarters in Pretoria, Abrahams was nervous as he fielded scathing questions from the media. It was a far cry from the man who seemed self-assured as he announced the charges less than a month before. While Abrahams was confident then, his actions sent shivers down the spines of investors. The markets plunged and the rand fell more than 3% in few minutes. It was just two weeks before Gordhan delivered his mid-term budget speech.
It raised questions about the leadership of Abrahams, who is in charge of National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and Zuma, who appointed him.
“When you are in a situation like we are in at the moment, you need leadership in government. At the same time, get the timing right. Leadership, in this particular instance, is needed to inspire confidence. Confidence in your country, confidence in a future and confidence in yourself, that you can influence the present to change the future. That is what is missing at the moment. Some of us are trying, some of us are close. I think we can do it,” said Gordhan during an interview with CNBC Africa a week before the trial was to begin.
On November 2, the day Gordhan, Magashula and Pillay were meant to appear in court, the High Court in Pretoria ordered the Public Protector to release the report on state capture, despite attempts to interdict its release by Zuma, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister David van Rooyen, and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. All three are implicated in the report which raises questions over the influence of the Gupta family on the president, ministers and state-owned enterprises.
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) marched in Pretoria demanding Zuma and Abrahams resign.
In Pretoria, shops closed their doors for fear of looting. The only people making money were those selling food and EFF merchandise in the streets.
An EFF branded truck entertained the supporters with music as a group danced and sang revolutionary songs at Church Square. Later, while addressing thousands of his supporters, EFF President, Julius Malema, lashed out at Zuma‚ saying that he’s “the country’s number one thief who sold it to the controversial and well-connected Gupta family.”
“We are putting a very strong argument that Zuma must pay the cost personally. We want to teach Zuma’s Mickey Mouses a lesson because these ministers are doing as they wish and they take matters to the court knowing that they won’t be affected,” says Malema.
“All those who captured the state of our institution must go. The CEO of [national power supplier] Eskom must go because he doesn’t have a place in our institution and that includes everyone else in government-owned companies who are controlled by the Guptas, if you can’t resign from the Guptas now; you’re going to be history. The Guptas must leave South Africa.”
The marchers dispersed while chanting: “Zuma the thief must voetsek (go)” and “Defend the democratic state”. Chaos erupted as they blocked traffic around the central business district. Police attempted to control the crowd after they burned a water tank.
The crowd ran amok and damaged property and looted shops. They assaulted the security who was trying to protect shops. The police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the supporters after they reportedly tried to force their way onto the lawns of the Union Buildings.
In these few days, where chaos erupted in parliament, court and the street, South Africans were assured that the law will always trump political shenanigans. As Gordhan was able to hold his head high, Zuma and his cronies had to take cover and plot their way out of the mess they suddenly find themselves in.