For a man on the ropes he looked and sounded in fine fettle – despite the cough that has been troubling him for months. To stretch the metaphor a little further you could argue that when it comes to the interview, these days, South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is like a nimble featherweight boxer. You can swing all night and not lay a glove on him.
This live interview on CNBC Africa, at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, was a remarkable event in itself just days before Gordhan’s appearance in court on a fraud charge. Few nations around the world have dragged their finance minister through the courts – fewer still would allow him or her to appear live on TV just days before.
Gordhan may have been late, because of a crucial meeting at cash-strapped South African Airways, but was unflappable with more polish than Kiwi. He comes across as an avuncular sage with calm gestures and the odd point of the figure. He is like your best mate’s uncle with a measured tone with an almost metronomic uttering of his messages. Gordhan is a smart cookie – he would no longer be in the job if he were not – and he knew this JSE interview took his messages straight to the ears of South African big business in the shape of millionaires Paul Harris, Adrian Gore and Stephen Koseff. Most of the time his answers were addressed to the 200 strong audience.
“Green shoots of recovery are there.”
“We must focus on growth,” he said more than once.
“There is not a limitless pot of money.”
The most endearing weapon in Gordhan’s arsenal is dry humour, which he uses to deflect and get the people on his side.
“I can’t tell you that the Hawks might find out,” was the answer to a question on who held the purse strings in his household.
He drew the biggest guffaw and applause of the interview when he answered a long question about whether he had the support of his fellows in government with three letters.
“Yes,” he said.
“I was told it was going to be easy,” was his reply to a question about why he took back the Finance Minister’s job in December.
Gordhan refused to speak about his court case, nor his relationship with President Jacob Zuma, but alluded to both. Firstly, he talked of the tale of a wounded buffalo lying between five hungry lions. The punchline is that the lions are so busy quarrelling over which part of the buffalo they will eat that the stricken animal gets up and walks away free.
Growth may be sluggish and an issue in South Africa for years to come. If Gordhan bats away the fraud charge on Tuesday his reputation is likely to grow a lot more rapidly than the economy.