Guest Column

The balance of forces: Zuma is going to lose this round

2016-09-01 13:01

Pieter Du Toit

President Jacob Zuma is in a very difficult position – and it’s hard to see how he’s not going to come out of this unnecessary stoush with Pravin Gordhan as the loser.

If he does follow through and remove Gordhan, the minister of finance, he’ll cripple the economy and surely commit political hara-kiri. And if he doesn’t act against Gordhan, the last bulwark against complete state capture, he’ll be significantly weakened.

Zuma should brush up on Strategy and Tactics, the ANC’s guiding policy document, updated every five years and the foundation from which party and government policy is derived. The overriding theme in Strategy and Tactics is that the “balance of forces” continually change, whether it be in the ongoing revolution en route to a national democratic society, or between the forces of monopoly capital and the developmental state or in the international arena.

The president has had a relatively free ride the past decade or so: he won the Battle of Polokwane (it’ll be 10 years next year!), was elected head of state twice, survied a rape trial, had charges of corruption dropped and sailed through choppy political waters following the sacking of Nhlanhla Nene and the Constitutional Court’s Nkandla judgment.

The balance of forces this time around however is not in his favour – even though he has his attack dogs out in full flight. There are two historical precedents: the Battle of Polokwane and 9/12, the infamous Nene disaster in December 2015.

Zuma had enormous support going into the Polokwane Conference: the leagues were influential within the party while the broader alliance was functional. Fikile Mbalula (president of the ANC Youth League back then) worked hard to mobilise support for regime change, while Zwelinzima Vavi (Cosatu) and Blade Nzimande (SACP) faithfully followed Zuma wherever he went – or wherever T-shirts with Mbeki’s face on it was burnt.

Compare then with now: the leagues have been largely neutered since Julius Malema was expelled from the ANCYL and placed under administration while the Women’s League has pretty much been anonymous for almost a decade now. Cosatu, who has traditionally played the role of internal opposition in the tripartite alliance, is a shadow of its former self, merely functioning as the ANC’s labour desk. And realpolitik is finally catching up with Nzimande’s SACP – it’s not the 1950’s anymore. And they still don’t contest elections.

When the revolt begins Zuma won’t have many safe havens to turn to for support.

Perhaps the biggest sea-change in the balance of forces is the enormous investment in events by the public and broader civil society. The election results showed as much.

With Nene’s firing last year, the whole country was caught off-guard (this journalist was at the movies enjoying  the latest James Bond flick when it happened). It needed four days of furious negotiations and gerrymandering to convince the president to change course, during which time billions of rands in value was wiped off the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), investor confidence nose-dived and the rand tanked.

This time around the country has been forewarned, and Gordhan has very skillfully taken a page from Thuli Madonsela’s book How to Win the Public and Influence People (with apologies to Dale Carnegie). He’s been very forthcoming with details about the assault on him and National Treasury, saying that we should all hope he’s still in office in October (with the mini-budget), asking the public to protect him and his colleagues and showing communication between his office and the Hawks for all to see. We are literally witnessing events blow by blow.

The possible economic impact of Gordhan’s dismissal, coupled with the disastrous election results, adds to the extra-political pressures on Zuma. The Nene misstep very clearly illustrated that the markets don’t care for sentiment and that South Africa is, in economist prof. Nick Binedell’s words, “a fragile and open economy where confidence is important”.

In the immedate aftermath of The Daily Maverick revealing that the Hawks are targeting Gordhan again, the rand lost value and the spectre of a credit downgrade reappeared on the horizon.

There are real, tangible and far-reaching economic consequences if Gordhan is booted. Uncertainty over corporate governance and state capture has already led to an asset management company, Futuregrowth, to suspend lending to a number of state owned enterprises (SOE’s) like Eskom. The reason is simple: it has to account to shareholders and it doesn’t believe investing in SOE’s is a safe bet anymore.

If Gordhan goes, investors – foreign and local – will think the same about South Africa Inc.

Of course, looking at the balance of forces, Zuma still has a number of cards up his sleeve: the ANC’s Top Six is weak (where’s Cyril?), the national executive committee (NEC) is largely beholden to him, the premier league rules the provinces and his deployees are in charge of the National Prosecuting Authority, Hawks, intelligence and defence.

But given how economics, politics and reality is aliging, Zuma’s cards may not be enough in the end – whether he fires Gordhan or not.

*Pieter du Toit is a political journalist and Assistant Editor at Huisgenoot.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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