S. Africa budget throws light on fractured ANC

By Sibongile KHUMALO*

South Africa's Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is popular with foreign investors but is seen as being at loggerheads with President Jacob Zuma (AFP Photo/Mike Hutchings)
South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is popular with foreign investors but is seen as being at loggerheads with President Jacob Zuma (AFP Photo/Mike Hutchings)

Pretoria (AFP) – South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan delivers the annual budget in parliament Wednesday as he battles to revive the economy and head off loyalists of the president who seek to oust him.

Gordhan, a popular figure in South Africa and among international investors, is widely seen as being at loggerheads with President Jacob Zuma, who has shrugged off a series of recent corruption scandals.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been engulfed by friction between Zuma’s plans for funding “radical economic transformation” and Gordhan’s stand against graft and uncontrolled expenditure.

“The budget will allow Gordhan to show his independence as the head of treasury and not be influenced by politics,” political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana told AFP.

“But he also has to find some money to support Zuma’s projects — that could prove to be very difficult in this economic climate.”

Gordhan last year faced fraud charges that were criticised as a move against him by Zuma’s associates as political turmoil spooked investors and saw the rand plummet.

The charges were dropped at the last minute, exposing tensions in the ANC as several ministers came out in Gordhan’s support.

The ANC youth league, women’s league and its military veterans association have all called for him to resign.

– On borrowed time? –

Gordhan’s future has come under the spotlight again ahead of the budget, with speculation of an imminent cabinet reshuffle to axe him — a step likely to trigger another crisis of confidence in the markets.

Uncertainty increased last week with the announcement that Zuma-ally Brian Molefe, the former chief executive of the state-owned power generator Eskom, was heading for parliament as a new lawmaker.

“You don’t bring someone of Molefe’s calibre into parliament just to make him a backbencher,” said Ndletyana.

In a pre-budget interview with television news channel eNCA, Gordhan, 67, admitted that he was “not indispensible”, adding “we are just humble civil servants.”

The finance minister, who is not viewed as a future presidential candidate, was appointed in 2015 to calm panicked investors when Zuma sacked two finance ministers within four days.

The budget will be closely watched by rating agencies who have raised concern about the country’s slow growth and bulging public sector wage bill.

In December, South Africa escaped a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s, which kept the country’s foreign currency debt one notch above junk status but with a negative outlook.

South Africa’s economic growth slowed to 0.4 percent last year, while gaping inequality and 27 percent unemployment present the ANC government with major challenges.

The party recorded its worst-ever election results in local polls last August.

It is due to choose a new leader at the end of this year, ahead of the 2019 general election when Zuma must stand down after serving two terms.


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