Max du Preez

Zuma 'a danger to SA's economic stability'

2016-05-17 08:00

Max du Preez

The single most serious clear and present danger to South Africa’s short-term economic and political stability has a name: Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.

There can be little doubt left now that Zuma has decided to fight to the bitter end rather than retire quietly after the coming local election or early next year, as senior ANC leadership elements (and much of the rest of South Africa) had hoped.

We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that Zuma will employ a scorched earth policy; we should face the fact that it isn’t beyond him to want to pull the pillars of the state down on all of us like a Biblical Samson.

The rating agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch arrive in South Africa this week to reassess their ratings of the South African economy. They are watching the dynamics between finance minister Pravin Gordhan and Zuma closely. If Gordhan isn’t given the political space to execute his budget promises, a downgrade to junk status is inevitable.

There was huge relief all round last week when other rating agency, Moody’s, stuck to their rating, just adding a negative outlook. Moody’s has left no doubt that Gordhan’s budget and his behaviour since then were key to its decision.

And just as Fitch and Standard & Poor’s were about to arrive, the Sunday Times reported that the Hawks were threatening to arrest Gordhan and charge him with espionage, a charge related to an investigations unit at SARS formed when Gordhan was its commissioner.

Fear and loathing

This threat of the arrest of a Cabinet minister isn’t new; Hawks officials also threatened to arrest Gordhan in February. The charge then, as now, is completely bogus.

The presidency can deny as much as it wants, there is an established pattern of the Hawks and state security operatives leaking such stories to newspapers to influence events. This time it was done to bring fear and loathing to Zuma opponents and prepare the atmosphere. Zuma is flexing his muscles.

As things stand today, it is clear that Zuma has outmaneuvered his opponents.

He has clearly not abandoned his ambitions to claim the national treasury for his and his cronies’ benefit, just as he had done successfully with the Hawks, SARS, the National Prosecuting Authority, SAA, Denel, the SABC and other state-owned enterprises.

The treasury holds the keys to the state coffers and it is the first prize.

Zuma’s previous attempt to capture the treasury was when he fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister on 9 December last year and replaced him with Des van Rooyen, a move that had Gupta fingerprints all over it.

That was five months ago, but Zuma still refers to it. Last week he again tried to justify his appointment of Van Rooyen and hinted that it was a white capitalist conspiracy that had forced him to fire Van Rooyen and appoint Gordhan. This false narrative, that South Africans shouldn’t fear the Guptas but the Ruperts, has gained some traction in ANC circles.

(I found it very disturbing  to watch Zuma at the weekend meeting of the Gauteng ANC making jokes about the uproar his appointment of Van Rooyen had caused – just days after the Public Investment Corporation revealed that it had lost R99bn in the day after the appointment.)

Zuma 'wants to take revenge'

Zuma’s forced climb-down on Van Rooyen was the most serious injury ever to his political career. He is still smarting and wants to take revenge.

He and his sidekicks have been very successful in softening the impact of the Constitutional Court’s damning findings on Nkandla by twisting and turning the court’s words and offering a half-hearted apology.

His other headache, the high court’s decision that the withdrawal of criminal charges against him was illegal, is something he can put on the backburner, playing his old game of slowing down the judicial process.

The story that Zuma wants to replace Gordhan with the present Eskom CEO, Brian Molefe, has been doing the rounds for many weeks now, as has the story that the Zuma loyalist just sworn in as MP, Sfiso Buthelezi, was destined for a senior position, possibly Molefe’s deputy.

(The Daily Maverick reported yesterday that one of the Gupta brothers had told staff last week that Molefe and Buthelezi would replace Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, soon.)

The gossip and the disinformation campaigns against Gordhan are aimed at artificially creating a dark cloud over his head that can be used as an excuse to relieve him of his duties.

Gordhan 'losing the battle'

Firing Gordhan could have a much more disastrous impact on the economy than was the case with 9/12. It could bring much more hardship than merely a downgrade to junk status. It doesn’t appear as if this would deter Zuma; his power and that of his wealthy benefactors would simply increase.

Gordhan promised in his budget speech that he was going to be tough on streamlining and disciplining the struggling state-owned enterprises. And since then he’s said some strong words about some of them.

But the last few weeks had showed that he was losing the battle; that Zuma was the undisputed boss of the state-owned enterprises.

The managements of SAA, Denel and SARS have openly challenged Gordhan’s power, something that has never happened since 1994. And they are continuing on their merry ways.

Only last week Zuma declared that he was going to be more closely involved with SAA.

The anti-Zuma power bloc in the ANC, led by Cyril Ramaphosa, Gordhan and with fluctuating enthusiasm also Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize, know very well that Zuma was untouchable before the 3 August election. In fact, they had little option but to defend him and even sing his praises – he is, after all, the face on the T-shirts and posters during the election campaign.

Zuma’s support base in Kwazulu-Natal, the ANC’s only growing region, and elsewhere in rural South Africa is simply too strong to manhandle him out of the presidency.

Zuma can survive any scandal

And I have little doubt that Zuma will spin the election results, however negative they may be, in his own favour and blame his opponents.

Zuma has learnt that he can survive any scandal given enough time. By mid-August he will probably be stronger than before. He has discovered a handy new bogeyman, one the shares with Julius Malema: whatever goes wrong, blame it on “white monopoly capitalists”.  Blaming state capturers like the Guptas is just racist. It’s working for him, it seems.

Oh, and the Guptas never left after all. Hehehehe. The joke’s on us.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  pravin ­gordhan

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