OPINION: Alliance? What alliance?
When the history of the internal tussles of the post-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) is written, the conclusion may be drawn that no internal squabble moved as quickly as the conflict surrounding President Jacob Zuma. Virtually no day goes by without some form of development taking place in public. Wednesday was no different - the ANC was out and about on various platforms, and then the SACP launched a new bazooka at the head of the Hawks, Mthandazo Ntlemeza. If this is not contained soon, the real damage won't just be to the currency and the country, but to the ANC itself.
Even under normal circumstances, if the conflict between Gordhan and Zuma was not in public as it is, the statement released by the SACP on Wednesday afternoon would still have been extraordinary.
The party is claiming, in public, that one of its leaders was sitting in a meeting, and overheard a conversation between Ntlemeza and a third party. In that conversation Ntlemeza claimed that he now had a mandate, and that "communists must be harassed". They go on to suggest, as so many others have, that Ntlemeza is pursuing a political agenda, and that he is not behaving neutrally. It might also suggest that Ntlemeza is not the most competent person available to lead the Hawks. How can someone head an "elite unit" when they are unable to keep their mouths shut with politicians about?
One would have to go back a long time to find a statement from a member of the tripartite alliance making similar claims. This is the SACP suggesting that a person appointed by a police minister appointed by Zuma is actually trying to weaken them. It brings back memories of the way state spooks were used by Thabo Mbeki to weaken Jeremy Cronin during the fracas over the "Zanufication of the ANC" claims more than 10 years ago.
But this is not just the SACP in fightback mode, this is the SACP in furious-spitting-angry mode. Because it then goes on to point out how state agencies were used during the apartheid years to pursue agendas of their own, and suggests that some people who were rising through the ranks in the police then are still in the ranks now. And that those people are still pursuing their agendas.
Just in case there's any misunderstanding here, this is not a claim about racist white police officers, this is a claim that some black police officers learnt from the apartheid cops, because they were police officers themselves.
Ntlemeza, it seems, is one of those officers. If you're looking for another example, you don't need to go further than one Richard Mdluli. Who may, or may not, have been the original source of the Zuma Spy Tapes, and so much more endless trouble.
And the SACP is, yes, going to do everything it can to protect Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. It claims that he's being isolated and targeted, and describes him as "the barrier against the looting of public resources".
It's not often the SACP is singing in tune with the urban middle classes, but this time the harmony is probably pitch-perfect.
Later in the day, during an interview with 702's Xolani Gwala, the SACP's second deputy general-secretary, Solly Mapaila, was asked directly if this was all the fault of Zuma. After wavering for a while, he said that Zuma himself should not allow all of this to happen, particularly "when some of this is claimed to be happening in his name". But he would not go so far as blaming this entire situation on Zuma, or as characterising it, as so many of us in the commentariat do, as a virtual war between Gordhan and the president.
If you think he is speaking in a structured fashion, then you should have heard the ANC's national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa.
One has to have some sympathy for Luthuli House in all of this. It seems that they hear about developments in this saga, whether it be a new Cabinet appointment or a response from Gordhan, just a few minutes ahead of the rest of us. There must surely be a sense of impotence here; they have completely lost the ability to shape events and have been reduced to bystanders. If this is the case, it is a complete rejection of what was decided, upon Zuma's election as ANC leader at Polokwane, that the centre of political power will be the ANC itself.
That said, the Luthuli House call is to first say that the ANC has "full faith in Pravin Gordhan, and all the members of the Cabinet", and then to say, again, that this should not be happening in the open. If you think about it, there is really nothing else that can be done. They must be panicking along with the rest of us every time a radio bulletin gets to the part where "the rand is trading at...". So, they need to try to gesture support for Gordhan in a bid to help the markets, but they cannot go too far, because it could look like they are moving away from their own democratically elected leader. Even if they can't say that they're proud of his leadership.
What must be especially galling for the ANC is that both Kodwa and Gwede Mantashe himself have repeatedly asked for everyone involved in this to just shut the hell up, and they've been repeatedly ignored. Which surely shows that the party has completely lost control of events.
That must surely have serious implications for its relationship with Zuma. You may think that Gordhan would be the one brought to heel by Mantashe, but he could claim he is simply responding to the threat of losing his freedom, while the one person with the power to end all of this is Zuma.
And this is what we come back to. With the rand plunging, bankers fretting, and the middle classes feeling poorer by the radio news bulletin, there is, as always, only one person who can actually sort this out: Number One himself. With a quick press conference. An announcement, sharing the podium with Ntlemeza, Gordhan, and NPA head Advocate Shaun Abrahams (who has still not lived up to his promise - a promise, mind you, to have regular press conferences). All that would have to happen is for Zuma to announce that this matter is closed, for Ntlemeza to say the investigation is finished and for Abrahams to say that Gordhan does not, and will not, face criminal charges relating to the Sars unit that started all of this.
It's not a lot to say, really. And it would, of course, be the legally correct thing to do.
Which can only beg the question.
Why, when the country and the ANC are bleeding, is the leader of the country, and the ANC, not doing it?
Stephen Grootes is the senior political correspondent for _ Eyewitness News _ and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. He is the author of SA Politics Unspun. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes