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Tread with caution, Mr President

Pravin Gordhan.
Image: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

What to do with Pravin Gordhan, the public enterprises minister?

That is but one of the many thorny questions that might be troubling President Cyril Ramaphosa as we start the new year.

Gordhan is, without doubt, a key member of Ramaphosa's cabinet - not only because the former played a crucial role in the latter's rise to the presidency, but because he has been at the forefront of the president's anti-corruption crusade in government.

In this role he has made enemies and has become a target for those, inside and outside the ANC, who have long-term objectives of removing Ramaphosa from the Union Buildings.

Hence Ramaphosa and his advisors see the clamouring for Gordhan's axing as an attempt to weaken the president.

Yet it is without doubt that, as public enterprises minister, Gordhan has not covered himself in glory. Under his watch, power utility Eskom has staggered from one crisis to another - pushing the country deeper into an economic growth crisis.

Even those who initially welcomed Gordhan's appointment to public enterprises when Ramaphosa took over are now wondering if he was the right man to lead the turnaround of institutions that were severely destroyed by the state capture project.

These are the points Ramaphosa now has to weigh as the voices calling for the minister's axing become louder. They are no longer just voices of the self-styled radical economic transformation advocates and apologists for the previous administration of Jacob Zuma or Julius Malema's EFF, they now include Ramaphosa's own allies in the form of trade union federation, Cosatu.

Does Ramaphosa give in to them, and risk confirming suspicions that he lacks a backbone as president? Does he stand by Gordhan and risk offending key allies, like Cosatu, he needs on his side to remain in charge in the ANC?

Whatever his decision, what must drive it is whether it will lead to the Eskom crisis being better managed, not mere politics.

If Ramaphosa decides to shift Gordhan to another cabinet post it has to be because he thinks another person will do better, not because he fears an EFF disruption in parliament.

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