Max du Preez

Zuma 'a rent-seeker par excellence'

2016-05-24 07:29

Max du Preez

How should we identify the two strong opposing forces inside the ANC? The Zuma camp versus the Ramaphosa camp, or tenderpreneurs versus anti-tenderpreneurs don’t tell the real story.

I first heard of the concept of rent-seeking eight years ago during a conversation I had with the late prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi.

Zenawi had a few flaws, especially regarding the freedom of journalists and opposition politicians, but he was in fact an astute political philosopher that had dragged his country from being a failed state into a developing sort-of democracy, stability and robust economic growth.

Zenawi spoke out strongly against elements in his society that contributed nothing concrete but got fat off state resources.

Rent-seekers and contributors

This is how the idea of rent-seeking is used nowadays in the political economy: the use of state resources to obtain economic gain from others without contributing to society or creating wealth in return.

That is perhaps a good way to characterise the split in the ANC: the rent-seekers and the contributors.

President Jacob Zuma is a rent-seeker par excellence; the poster boy of rent-seekers.

He abuses his position as head of state and leader of the governing party to serve his own interests and those of his clan, sycophants, strategic allies and business benefactors.

He and some of his wives, his children, his brothers and cousins have become stinking rich since he became president.

He uses a broad network of patronage and cronyism to safeguard himself politically.

Zuma has significantly undermined the prestige and credibility of several state agencies in his battle to stay out of jail, keep his allies safe and to knee-cap his opponents.

Theatre of the absurd

Monday’s press conference by Shaun Abrahams of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was the most recent manifestation of this abuse.

It was theatre of the absurd. Abrahams sanctimoniously preached for half an hour on how independent he was, but when he was asked why the NPA had accepted the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals on prosecutors’ powers in the case of general Richard Mdluli but now wants the same court to overthrow the precedent it had set itself, his bravado crumbled in front of the cameras.

But Abrahams had done his job: he had bought Zuma more time. Nine years on the president has still not had his day in court.

There is little or nothing on the plus side for Zuma. Under his leadership the ANC descended to unprecedented levels of corruption and maladministration and splintered into several pieces.

Just last week three ANC veterans and key state officials who had controversially been fired, Robert McBride, Anwa Dramat and Ivan Pillay, said in an extraordinary statement that senior people in several state institutions were being harassed and prosecuted in an effort to undermine the fight against corruption.

“Corruption is the biggest threat to our constitutional democracy,” they said, “This cancer has turned former comrades against each other. People who shared the same trenches in the fight for liberation are now at each other’s throats for the sake of protecting corrupt activities.”

Zuma is surrounded by ministers, leading ANC figures and senior civil servants who sail in his wake and whose political and financial futures are tied to his.

Their co-rent seekers are the Gupta family and other shadowy business people that make sure their wallets remain fat by paying for political influence.

Power game

All these rent-seekers are not only guilty of self-enrichment, they are actually actively undermining South Africa’s economic prospects.

The power game they are currently playing with the national treasury and the minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, is a good example.

While Gordhan and his few allies are going out of their way to convince foreign investors and rating agencies that the economy is stable and well-managed, the rent seekers continue on their reckless campaign as if a downgrade to junk status and an exodus of foreign investors would not matter one bit.

Gordhan must feel like Daniel in the lion’s den when he attends a Cabinet meeting and sit across the table from Zuma and his political bodyguards that intimidate and undermine him at every opportunity.

The rent-seekers’ war of attrition against the treasury and Gordhan is going to rage on. At yesterday’s press conference Abrahams subtly left a door open to charge Gordhan at some point. The Hawks did the same earlier. Their “reassurances” that Gordhan won’t be arrested are extremely flimsy and low on credibility.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  shaun abrahams  |  pravin gordhan

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