OPINION

Bruce Whitfield
  • Malusi Gigaba resigned a day ahead of a deadline set by the Public Protector for the president to take action
  • The 47-year old has presidential ambitions
  • Ramaphosa’s slow and steady clean up continues – but his long list of enemies is growing

There is an old saying: “The devil makes work for idle hands.” Thabo Mbeki learned that to his, and the country’s, cost when he was ousted as president at Polokwane in December 2007.

He was replaced by Jacob Zuma whom he fired as his deputy in June 2005. Zuma bided his time and built up his support base to stage a dramatic comeback at the ANC’s elective conference just over two years later, and the country has not been the same since.

Gigaba’s departure could not have happened a moment too soon following revelations that he’d lied under oath in relation to his approvals for the Oppenheimer family to operate a private immigration terminal at OR Tambo International Airport.

Read: Brace yourself – South Africa is about to get even noisier

There is no conclusive evidence against him when it comes to a role he may or not have played in the so-called state capture project, but there are strong suggestions that he aided the Gupta agenda. There is also the small matter of a salacious home movie that made it from his phone to the public domain and the long-running visa debacle which caused immeasurable damage in the domestic tourism sector.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been an outspoken critic of corruption since assuming office in February and there is a growing list of scalps of people connected to graft under the previous administration, although there have been no convictions yet on numerous allegations of wrongdoing.

The High Court found in February that Gigaba had committed perjury when he denied authorising a company owned by the Oppenheimer family to operate a private immigration terminal at OR Tambo. That ruling was further upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, and forced the Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to instruct the president to take action against his Home Affairs Minister.

That deadline would have expired today.

Ramaphosa won a gossamer-thin majority as party leader at Nasrec in December and has been playing a slow and steady game as he has sought to clean up a corruption-ridden administration.

Gigaba’s resignation on Tuesday saved him from the embarrassment of being fired and means the president did not have to actively dismiss him. Gigaba could not have been in any doubt however that his days were numbered. It was clear that he could not continue as a government minister when his integrity was publicly challenged.

But don’t rule out a comeback of some kind.

There are many in the ANC who are smarting as a result of their removal from lucrative government jobs – not least Zuma, who in January this year - as he dragged out his resignation - still protested that he had no idea what he’d done wrong to warrant being removed.

Gigaba, like several others ousted in the ten months since Ramaphosa became president, remains influential within the party.

Gigaba is not just a former leader of the ANC Youth League, a former cabinet minister of many years standing, but he is also an MP and, critically from the point of view of power within the ANC, a member of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee which ultimately holds the fate of its party president and by definition the president of the country in its hands.

So concerned is the party about plots to oust the current president that it has outlawed private meetings by senior party members.

Levels of paranoia are elevated.

Pictures of the former Free State premier turned ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule holding a private meeting with Zuma has led to a party ruling that barred private high-level meetings.

Essentially everyone needs to be in the open at all times to prevent anyone from fomenting a plot against the president.

It feels like a race to the bottom. Many of those on the wrong side of this story are believed to be bent on revenge for the humiliation they have suffered since their patron Zuma was removed from office.

Could they form a strong enough quorum within the ANC to stage a palace coup following next year's national elections?

It’s possible.

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

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