President Jacob Zuma’s removal of Nhlanhla Nene has led to the most biting criticism directed to date at a sitting democratic president – and it’s come from fellow ANC members and big business.
Current and former ANC leaders, as well as government officials, this week had the guts to openly disagree with Zuma’s decision to fire Nene and replace him with David “Des” van Rooyen.
Business Leadership SA, representing close to 80 major companies, put out a statement saying: “The replacement of an effective and trusted minister just 18 months into his term has raised doubts about our ability to maintain prudent macroeconomic policies.”
A minister in former president Nelson Mandela’s government, Jay Naidoo, was among those who took to Twitter to vent about Zuma’s “stupid decision”.
“I have known Nene for many years. I have never doubted his ability or his integrity. This is a stupid decision. [An] unbelievable decision that is certainly not in our national interest,” tweeted Naidoo, the founding general secretary of labour federation Cosatu and chair of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.
Speaking on Friday at the Claremont Main Road Mosque, former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan said: “This week, a line was crossed in an arbitrary act” by Zuma in dismissing Nene.
She also said the appointment of Van Rooyen was about Zuma pursuing his personal interests.
“Our National Treasury is internationally respected. Thus our high ratings. Now we have someone who will do Zuma’s bidding,” she said.
Hogan also urged “honest people” in the ANC to “take our organisation back from the thieves”.
“This country has a huge potential and people looked up to us. The thieves are taking over. Enough is enough,” she said.
Zuma fired Hogan in 2010.
Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi also disagreed with Zuma’s decision to replace Nene with Van Rooyen, a relatively unknown and junior backbencher in Parliament.
Lesufi took to Facebook just hours after Zuma announced his decision, and voiced his shock and unhappiness with this tweet: “I don’t agree. #No.”
Many others shared this sentiment. Among them were National Treasury officials, including a chief audit executive. But others cautioned Lesufi against being an ill-disciplined ANC member.
“You ought to agree ... ours is to rally behind the decision taken. It’s our tradition,” one of his comrades said.
Lesufi retorted: “Unfortunately, I don’t agree.”
Another ANC loyalist who broke ranks was Shaka Sisulu, who, in a string of posts on Twitter, voiced his disdain for Zuma’s decision. He said the ANC was neutered and not in control.
Sisulu was among those who were hand-picked to revive the ANC Youth League after its executive was disbanded in 2013. He is the grandson of former ANC stalwart and icon Walter Sisulu, and his father is former National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu.
“I’m going to be an ass and break ranks with most of my comrades’ public utterances. I don’t agree with last night’s sudden cabinet reshuffle,” tweeted Sisulu.
“I’m not sure what pre-empted it. There is a cacophony of loud assumptions. And that’s the problem with the Executive’s vague statement last night.
“What I found most disturbing was my organisation’s statement. It spoke volumes & said nothing. It didn’t welcome it. But didn’t question it either,” he tweeted on Thursday.
“My ANC sounded neutered. As if the Executive is not compelled to account to it. Even though the party deployed the Executive. I agree that the Executive is not required to take us into its confidence. But it is required to retain the confidence of the citizenry.
“Out of the myriad of things that have been communicated in the past 24 hours, the most distressing is that the ANC is no longer in control. Comrades of the movement are going to have to wipe the façade of [sic] their faces and reassert the centrality of the movement in decision-making,” he wrote.
An open letter, signed by prominent individuals including former National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli, former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, the director of Business Leadership SA Bonang Mohale and businessman Reuel Khoza, was addressed to Zuma and warned him that his decision had already sent negative signals to the economy and international investors.
“We appeal that Treasury be insulated from political expedience, especially because this is the most important institution to safeguard macroeconomic stability, a prime driver of confidence in the economy and a critical agency to guarantee fiscal sustainability for future generations,” they wrote.
ANC members, some of whom serve in provincial government departments, used social media to question how ANC leaders could sit by and allow one man to do as he pleased. They dared them to “come collect their membership and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine”.