The faces of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Jacob Zuma have become a far too easy way for the public to take sides in a conflict that is much bigger than it appears…
It has taken 22 years for the election victory bus of the African National Congress (ANC) to reach a highway potholed by mass public opinion and internal division. It’s inevitable that a tire will burst. As time is running out for an outdated ANC, so negative public opinion suggests that life, as we know it, is running out for all.
Democracy dictates that power is in the hands of the public – who rules is determined by who votes or doesn’t vote. But to view that in isolation is to deny the harsh reality of money and greed, and the abuse of power that too often accompanies…
BIG BUSINESS BIGGER THAN POLITICIANS
It’s arguable that Apartheid wasn’t ended by civil protest. Instead, that protest was a by-product of the NP’s bankrupting of South Africa. Rather than lose it all, the National Party (NP), under added pressure from foreign nations with financial interests, made a deal with the incoming ANC: Those who had robbed the country would get away with it. In return, the ANC would take over a corporation called the Republic of South Africa and continue business as “normal”.
22 years later, the corporation is facing unhappy shareholders (the public, particularly the growing black middle class) and a rebelling Board of Directors (Pravin Gordhan, ex-Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, ANC Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize, ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu etc.).
Student protests, the Guptas, claims of state capture, Nkandla, the Arms Deal and the ANC’s exorbitant nuclear energy intentions have swelled with other issues to become one problem labelled “ZUMA”. As inadequate as it is to ignore the many cronies involved, so it’s necessary for the public to put a face to their dissatisfaction and, in turn, for those seeking power to take advantage of it.
WHO DOES THE OPPOSITION SERVE?
The Democratic Alliance (DA) is at the forefront where an opposition party is expected to be. They’ve had a free ride, able to point fingers at the Zuma mess so often that few have bothered to observe their own actions. They’ve failed to account for the source of the hundreds of millions they allegedly spent on the last national and local elections. But it’s known that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, the ex-leader of the party, consorts with billionaires and has actively sought overseas funding.
Common sense suggests that no one gives large amounts of money without expecting something in return. It’s possible that the DA is Big Business’ biggest political friend in South Africa. Mmusi Maimane, the current DA leader, may simply be benefiting by being the black face of the party’s marketing campaign.
The populist, right-winged Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), epitomised by savvy firebrand Julius Malema, also scores points for minimal effort. As justified as it may be, their rhethoric against Zuma has distracted from Malema’s personal challenges with the law. It’s possible that despite all the shouting, the EFF, one day, will become the partner of a new version of the ANC… or even voluntarily be subsumed by it, like a lost child running into the arms of its daddy who hands out pocket money… and safety from the law.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s entrance, albeit weak and only after others spoke up strongly in opposition, is more interesting and telling. As infamous as the BEE billionaire is under the Marikana Massacre shadow, so is he shrewd. More important than outcome is that Ramaphosa, the businessman, is sensing opportunity now. Despite not declaring himself as a candidate, it cannot be coincidental that, this week, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) backed him to replace President Jacob Zuma as the leader of the ANC.
In between, there’s Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the new Public Protector. Her position is second in difficulty only to Zuma’s. It would be righteous to expect her to do her job of presenting facts with impartiality but is that possible with a mess this big and dangerous?
Opposing the figure of who she should be, is Collen Maine, the President of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). At the recent “Hands Off Zuma” march in Durban, he expressed the self-serving desperation that South Africans have feared for decades with: “We must rise and indicate to the enemy that we are more than ready… your guns, bring them now, now is the time to defend the revolution.”
All of them, from Ramaphosa and the Zille down to Mkhwebana and Maine, are arguably servant to the economy and those (who are not the public) who have interest in it.
Whilst the growth rate is at its slowest crawl since the 2009 financial crisis, inflation and interest rates are higher. It should be safe to expect that 100 years of mining minerals has provided financial fallback but there are allegations that our reserves have been stolen, given credit by the privately owned Reserve Bank refusing an external audit. It may be that South Africa is a shell, hollowed by foreign looters in cahoots with politicians.
From the the multitude of black and coloured impoverished to the slipping white middle class, the context is unthinkable, life preoccupied by the daily struggle for survival.
Before the year is out, their future may be decided by the sovereign rating South Africa receives. The markets are so jittery that political news already causes tens of billions to be lost on a monthly basis.
On November 1, there’ll be a court attempt to stop Thuli Madonsela’s state capture report from being released. On November 2, Pravin Gordhan will face allegations of corruption that are unlikely to succeed but may be drawn out as a political tool. These events will majorly impact on investor confidence.
A downgrade to junk status, the repeated worry in the media this year, is expected to be catastrophic.
The younger modernists of the ANC, as well as the older opportunists for power, will see the coming ANC annual conference in December as a possible avenue of last resort to stopping the economy from stopping in a pothole. Big Business and foreign countries will rally like invisible elephants in their midst.
PRAVIN GORDHAN & JACOB ZUMA MERE PLAYERS
Jacob Zuma, and all who have benefited from supporting him, threw a ball at the rest of the country. For too long, nobody picked up the ball to throw it back. But now they have, drawing the face of Pravin Gordhan on it. For the first time, the opposition has a face that isn’t identified by colour or political party.
That Gordhan ball is travelling in slow motion towards a glitchy Zuma whose desperately trying to find the best bat to hit it out of view.
He’s in an awful, personal position. If he misses, he’s out of the game… and many of his team will likely follow as the winning team exposes more historical match-fixing. On the other hand, if he hit a Mugabe, choosing self-interest over the financial interest of a country, there may be rebellion.
No matter what happens, it’s important to remember that they are merely the latest players in a game for the control of South Africa’s wealth.