Malusi Gigaba. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Malusi Gigaba. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Aweek in politics is a long time. When Malusi Gigaba, who had seemed mysteriously untouchable, resigned on Tuesday as home affairs minister, it shifted the political balance in the ANC further in favour of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Even Gigaba, with his extraordinary capacity for political survival and arrogant denial of error, could not absorb the pressure from a combination of personal scandal, damning court judgments and increasing association with state capture. Unlike Tom Moyane at the SA Revenue Service (Sars), he jumped before he was pushed.

It’s something of a vindication of Ramaphosa’s strategy. He has employed an enigmatic drip-drip approach of sitting tight and letting his internal ANC opponents hang themselves, or in effect be hanged by other agencies, such as the Nugent inquiry into Sars and the Zondo commission into state capture.

Former president Jacob Zuma famously employed a "Stalingrad" tactic throughout his tenure, using every legal means to survive. Ramaphosa is more like Field Marshal Montgomery at the Battle of El Alamein — refusing to move until he is ready, steadily accumulating a superiority in morale and resources, and starving his enemy of supplies.

If a week in politics is a long time, a year can seem an eternity. Just over a year ago, Zuma’s grip on the presidency seemed as strong as ever. Shaun Abrahams was still the national director of public prosecutions, and as inert as ever. Gigaba was sitting very comfortably as finance minister, with the presidency a realistic long-term ambition. There were strong and persistent rumours that Ramaphosa would be axed as deputy president so that Zuma’s former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, could replace him and succeed Zuma in 2019.

Malusi Gigaba
Malusi Gigaba

So, we have come a long way. The nightmare has not entirely receded, but there is sunlight. Zuma no longer wields the enormous power available to the SA presidency, both constitutionally and through the sheer weight of influence.

Of course the stakes are high for those who benefited from Zuma’s influence.

They thought the largesse would never end. And their power has not yet been conclusively broken, so they are fighting back with the desperation of cornered men.

The damning testimony heard at the Nugent and Zondo inquiries, much of it from senior ANC figures, suggests there must be worried people in high places who have much to fear — including, in some cases, time in jail.

This explains the astonishing smear campaign against public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan in recent days. It appears to be emanating from the substantial Zuma-supporting faction in the ANC, in alliance with the EFF.

To them, Gordhan must be the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition, relentlessly hunting down the heretics. More than anyone else, he is dangerous to the corrupt and compromised.

Shrewdly, the EFF has now lodged complaints against Gordhan with the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane. This may seem like a last throw of the dice, but it’s not an unreasonable step. After all, Mkhwebane’s competence has been bluntly questioned by the courts, and she has made embarrassing mistakes. It is not clear if she is merely out of her depth, or if the rationale is more sinister.

The fact that such questions are still being asked of individuals in pivotal positions shows how much work Ramaphosa still has to do to restore trust in state institutions. But the departure of Moyane and now Gigaba suggests that at least we have reached the end of the beginning.