Max du Preez

Was 9/12 the beginning of Zuma's end?

2016-03-22 07:30
Des van Rooyen, minister van samewerkende regering en tradisionele sake.  Foto: Argief

Des van Rooyen, minister van samewerkende regering en tradisionele sake. Foto: Argief

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It's referred to it as “9/12”, South Africa’s own destiny-changing 9/11 on 9 December 2015 - the day President Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with a loyal backbencher, writes Max du Preez.

Economists and business people, even the minister of finance, refer to it as “9/12”, South Africa’s own destiny-changing 9/11 on 9 December 2015.

But where 9/11 only brought more terror and conflict, 9/12, the day President Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as minister of finance with no apparent reason and replaced him with a loyal backbencher, became a turning-point of a wholly different nature.

It was indeed a heavy blow to the South African economy, but I believe we will look back one day and view it as a golden day for our democracy and future prosperity.

It was the day Zuma’s untouchability received its first serious blow. If you play Big Man in Africa, you dare not show any weakness because after that it’s downhill.

For the first time since he became president Zuma had to backtrack, apologise and change an important decision. He will never fully recover from this. It could even mean the beginning of his end. A vulnerable Zuma is, in my analysis, a very good thing.

Almost more importantly, 9/12 at long last forced the ANC, the Cabinet and the broader population to acknowledge that “the economy” wasn’t just something vague driven by the Treasury, but that it was something that affects each and everyone’s bread and butter; that it was the economy that determines our fate and affects our daily lives, even our stability, more than anything else.

The price we pay

At last everybody realised that our economy was inextricably interwoven with the international economy. You can shout “white monopoly capital” or “radical economic transformation” as often and as loud as you want, but if you do something that upsets the national and international markets enough, you and every citizen will feel it in your pocket. It’s the price we pay for not being an insulated backwater economy like Togo or the Central African Republic.

The poorest of the poor will feel it most, which means an uprising against the present ruling clique could be closer to a reality.

9/12 thus brought a new realism about the economy that has been absent in our national political discourse since 1994. It was a valuable lesson to the ideologues and the populist opportunists that still dream about large scale nationalisation, socialism and a “national democratic revolution”.

For the first time since Nelson Mandela retired, government is consulting the private sector more regularly, talking about public-private partnerships and even partial or full privatisation of concerns that cost the taxpayers billions every year.

It quickly became clear that Nene was fired because he refused to play along with the political abuse of state-owned enterprises and with the massive nuclear power deal with Russia.

It also became clear that the Gupta family had a strong hand in Nene’s sacking and the choice of his successor, failed small town mayor Des van Rooyen.

That finally lanced the bulging boil that is the Gupta family’s power and influence in our political decision making.

The fact that Zuma’s children and other clan members became very rich very quickly because of their and their father’s ties with the Guptas, even the embarrassing Waterkloof incident, did not do much damage to the Zuma/Gupta complex.

A national embarrassment

But the Guptas’ role in the appointment of Van Rooyen (and a few Gupta acolytes he had assembled as senior bureaucrats) had led directly to senior ANC figures such as deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas, Vytjie Mentor and Themba Maseko breaking their silence and bringing concrete evidence of Gupta influence in key state appointments.

Today there is an overwhelming feeling across South Africa that this family’s power over Zuma has become a national embarrassment and that it is undermining our national sovereignty and pride.

9/12 also brought Pravin Gordhan back, an experienced, widely trusted and powerful finance minister – exactly what our troubled economy needed now.

The drama around 9/12 helped to force the battle for the soul of the ANC and the state’s purse strings into the open and now all citizens can see this struggle for what it really is.

The ruling establishment is now clearly divided into two camps: the economic realists, constitutionalists and the broad left on the one side and the rent seekers, the ethnic traditionalists, the rural barons of the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga and the Gupta types that have to protect Zuma at all costs on the other.

9/12 may prove to have been the watershed at which South Africa’s comeback road to proper governance, accountability and realism started.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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* This article was originally published in March 2016.

Read more on:    anc  |  nhlanhla nene  |  jacob zuma  |  gupta family  |  pravin gordhan  |  david van rooyen

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