The ongoing furore between President Jacob Zuma and former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordan is a classic case of government winning the law but losing the PR battle, writes a communicator working in public service.
From the onset of his second term at the head of the Treasury, the towering, morally incorruptible, visionary, and financially cautious finance minister has been a lone voice in a vast and seemingly incorrigible cabinet.
While the president made the call for austerity, it was Gordhan who seemed to be the only minister to heed that call and continuously caution against spending in a country with slow economic growth. From the procurement of expensive Mercedes Benz and Audi Q7s and Porsche Cayennes and the blatant waste of taxpayer’s hard earned cash through miserably failing parastatals, Gordhan’s message of austerity made him a lone voice of reason in a sea of spenders.
An unfolding PR crisis
The making of Gordhan as a man of honour has thus been in the making for a long time. That he has been booted out of Cabinet after a tense two weeks of wild speculation about his future has cemented his place as an untouchable in South African discourse. Most worryingly, and especially from a PR perspective, is the fact that he is perceived to be more morally astute than his former boss who has won in finally forcibly removing him from the Treasury seat, but who is still fuelling fires about firing one of the hardest working South Africans who seemed to care about South Africa more than he does. And he is the President.
The unfolding of the PR crisis has become even deeper, with very senior members of cabinet and the ANC calling out the president for failing to adequately consult them on the reshuffle. Furthermore, the alliance partners have also dug in, asking the president to vacate his seat. This PR nightmare has dragged all South Africans into a feeling of despair – including the civil service.
In fact, the frenzy of press conferences over the past couple of weeks (with everyone who can typing out a media invitation), has added to the feeling of a government that is completely out of control. If I was the president I would tell my ministers to stop holding press conferences on meaningless things and focus on stabilising their areas of work.
A press conference a day
There should be a more coherent and strategic government approach to these issues, and press conferences every single day is just not the way to achieve this.
Lastly, even if the president and alliance partners are at odds about how best to run the country, the PR crisis the presidency and ANC find themselves in right now can be abetted.
How? They should simply sit back a little and listen, really listen, to what the people of this country want. I don’t mean media headlines… I mean they should step back and ask themselves whether this is the kind of state of affairs that leaves them confident that citizens of this country have confidence in their leadership.
Citizens deserve peace and quiet
Is it that hard? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the citizens of this country deserve some peace and quiet. And the truth.
The PR battle between a president and his junior is hardly an ideal situation, but falling into the trap of completely losing face to win a war is far more bruising and short sighted.
Sihle Mabalane is a government communicator who writes under an assumed name.