In the absence of any official communication from the government to deny mounting speculation that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan might be replaced, the Presidency’s chief operations officer posted a message on her personal Facebook page to school journalists on how the Cabinet works.
“For the record, Cabinet does not discuss the appointment or removals of ministers and deputy ministers. It is the highest decision making structure of government which discusses government business, just in case some compatriots believed journos who may have said yesterday’s [Cabinet] meeting was called to discuss a so-called reshuffle,” wrote Lakela Kaunda.
Kaunda, a seasoned journalist, former chairperson of the SA National Editor’s Forum, and the first female editor of a daily newspaper in SA for the now closed Evening Post, said Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting was “routine”.
“It was just postponed to start in the afternoon because of the funeral of Mr Ahmed Kathrada,” she continued.
“Cabinet meets on Wednesday’s fortnightly. On other weeks, Cabinet committees meet to discuss and process issues and prepare for Cabinet. President has delegated some cabinet committees to be chaired by the Deputy President but they both attend all committees.
“We are planning media workshops in Cape Town and Pretoria to unpack presidency operations in detail so that the media can understand how Cabinet works, how the presidency is structured etc to avoid confusion of this nature within the fourth estate.
“Have a wonderful day compatriots and friends!”
Cabinet met on Wednesday after the Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral, which Zuma did not attend at the wishes of the Kathrada family.
Reporters waited near the Cabinet meeting venue, hoping to get clarity on why Zuma had asked Gordhan to come back from London, and why the Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas did not go on the US leg of the roadshow as planned.
In the meantime, unsourced reports surfaced of a supposed plot, “Operation Checkmate”, in which Gordhan was alleged to have gone to London to get international bankers to gang up against Zuma so that he would step down.
Asked about the post, Kaunda said she was surprised to see so many journalists waiting near the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and felt it was time to tell them that ministers would not discuss each other’s hiring and firing at a Cabinet meeting.
“It is very odd. It is not even correct protocol so say, ‘I believe you want fire some of us,'” explained Kaunda, adding that it would never be done in that forum.
She stressed that she was not the Presidency spokesperson, and said comment on the Gordhan speculation should be obtained from Zuma’s official spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga.
Explaining that Ngqulunga has not been responding to requests for comment, she said he was very busy with the presidential programme, and recommended trying him again.
News24 could not reach Ngqulunga.
Since Zuma’s one-line statement on Monday confirming that he had instructed Gordhan to come back home, there has been no further official word, to either deny or confirm, the speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle.
A lengthy statement was issued, explaining why Zuma had sought (unsuccessfully) to become a party to Gordhan’s court action against the Gupta-owned Oakbay’s bid to get him to help them fight a decision by banks to freeze their accounts, but no Cabinet reshuffle rumours were quashed.
Another statement, paying tribute to Kathrada and saying Zuma would not be attending the funeral, followed.
Even the Government Communication and Information Systems, which churns out reams of information on government-related developments and activities, was mum on the topic, although on Monday Zuma did announce that the Inter-ministerial Committee on Communications had been revived.
Journalists surprised by Gordhan’s cameo appearance at a court application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, managed to winkle a “yes” out of Gordhan when they asked if he was still finance minister, and the Treasury issued a detailed explanation of the work done on the roadshow.
Another reporter managed to get a simple SMS reply of “no such” when he asked Treasury spokesperson Yolisa Tsantsi if Gordhan was on his way out.
Camping out at the ANC’s headquarters Luthuli House in Johannesburg did not help either, with Treasury Director General Lungile Fuzile opting for a humorous brush off when asked why he and Gordhan had had to come home.