The contrast between the two issues that transfixed the nationthis week — the death of ANC struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada, and growing anxiety that finance minister Pravin Gordhan was to be axed — could not have been starker.
The ANC is shown in two contradictory guises: one the idealistic and selfless, the other corrupt and mercenary.
Kathrada (87), was one of the revered Rivonia Trial generation of leaders, which included such giants of the liberation movement as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.
Only Denis Goldberg (83) and Andrew Mlangeni (91) are still alive.
The tributes to Kathrada, a gentle man who was incarcerated for 26 years (18 of them on Robben Island) have been universally warm, extolling his humility and selflessness. He never sought high office (perhaps because he did not want it) or material gain, but dedicated his life to principles he learnt from an ANC from an altogether more innocent age. It’s hard to imagine.
You couldn’t help but consider the eulogies to Kathrada as a proxy for a sentimental hankering for that other ANC — the one BZ (before Zuma), unperverted and unsullied by cronyism.
"Kathrada represented the kind of SA we want to see," said Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the minister of public administration.
Paul Mashatile, leader of the ANC in Gauteng (which is, tellingly, not in the Zuma camp), spoke of the need for ANC leaders to "embrace the values of its core founders" if it is to renew itself by emulating the legacy of Kathrada.
Exactly why Zuma ordered Gordhan to abort his investment road shows in London and New York — which were authorised by the presidency — was not entirely clear when the Financial Mail went to press.
Zuma himself had told certain people that he planned to axe Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. He’s been wanting to do exactly that for months, almost since he was forced to backtrack on his decision to appoint an obscure, Gupta-linked yes-man, David Des van Rooyen, in December 2015 to replace Nhlanhla Nene.
But why Zuma had to do this now with such urgency, recalling Gordhan from the middle of a crucial investment meeting, is baffling. There are many theories — most of which revolve around the urgency to ensure the Guptas have bank accounts after the Bank of Baroda gave notice that it will close their accounts at the end of this month. But whatever the urgency, the fact is that Zuma has been itching to do this for months. He evidently can’t stand the indignity of having a finance minister who, by his actions, highlights his boss’s delinquencies on a daily basis. Gordhan is a thorn in a compromised presidency.
It is perhaps a measure of Kathrada’s stature among ANC supporters that his death and funeral arrangements seemed to stay Zuma’s hand. Gordhan was not, as expected, given his marching orders immediately upon his return to SA.
However, it is fitting that Zuma did not attend Kathrada’s funeral.
Not long after Nenegate, Kathrada wrote an open letter to Zuma in which he recounted the various humiliations the president has imposed on SA — the Nkandla scandal, Nene’s dismissal, and the Guptas. He concluded with an "appeal to our president to submit to the will of the people and resign".
Yet Zuma continued nonchalantly on his way. That was no surprise. But still, for Zuma not to attend Kathrada’s funeral tells its own story — it would surely have been unthinkable for any other ANC president.