President Jacob Zuma with Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Durban. File photo: REUTERS
President Jacob Zuma with Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Durban. File photo: REUTERS
Image: ROGAN WARD/REUTERS

It was a move planned by what now seems to have been a very desperate leader of the country, one who to this day still seems unaccountable to his party comrades.

Reversing his decision to appoint Van Rooyen in just four days and returning Pravin Gordhan to the seat was bruising. For the same Gordhan wasn't very supportive of his grand plans to purchase the Petronas-owned Engen from the Malaysians and place it in the hands of a now near-bankrupt PetroSA. He was the same guy who was not too keen on a nuclear build that unconstitutionally favoured a Russian bid over all others.

The minute Gordhan returned to the Treasury's Pretoria headquarters, there was one certainty: his stay would be a rather eventful one. Not only was he now charged with fending off a ratings downgrade, he had to somehow keep the president in check.

On the first count, he succeeded at keeping the wolves at bay - ratings agencies postured but did not take action.

Along with a host of business leaders and some like-minded politicians, wearing scarfs in South Africa's national colours, they traipsed across the globe trying to ease investor concerns over the future of the country. It was quite well co-ordinated, so one has to wonder just how much big business knew of Jacob Zuma's "surprise" move to fire Nhanhla Nene.

(They were of course helped by the distraction of the emergence of Donald Trump and Britain's decision to leave the EU.)

In carrying out Gordhan's second task, keeping the president's finger off the trigger, some monumental battles were fought. The charges that were eventually withdrawn by the NPA marked the pinnacle.

But at that point, it was just a matter of time; Gordhan's end was nigh. And whoever would answer the president's call to replace him would be gambling on their future. A gamble of the highest order, and one that only a man as ambitious as Malusi Gigaba could accept.

His biggest task would be to ensure the Treasury removed itself from the rough and tumble of party politics that was eroding its credibility and by extension undermining the country's sovereignty.

Key to achieving this was gaining credibility in the eyes of South Africans as a whole (we all have a vested interest in the state's coffers), winning over the staff in the ministry and showing that he wasn't a pawn in an elaborate plan of plunder.

Barring the departure of a few senior leaders in the Treasury - who in truth could no longer be expected to further serve a Presidency that clearly was at war with them - there have been no mass resignations. But, on other measures, it's been a rough 100 days for Gigaba.

It's been a near impossible task to remove the air of suspicion around him. The leaks of Gupta e-mails have soiled both him and his deputy.

In a country charged with fears about its sovereignty being owned by a single family, he hasn't managed to remove his name from the narrative of being an enabler.

If he is to ensure there's a political future for him beyond today, he faces a monumental challenge. Relying on chameleon-like skills to pander to whichever audience is before him simply won't crack it. The man has to stand on his own two feet. It's his only play.

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