Gigaba's dilemma: Will his loyalty to Zuma trump his ambition?

Malusi Gigaba is the minister of finance. (Picture: Gallo Getty)
Malusi Gigaba is the minister of finance. (Picture: Gallo Getty)

There he was, our designer finance minister, presenting the mini-budget, acting like a man who had killed both his parents and was now pleading for sympathy because he is an orphan.

Malusi Gigaba painted a sombre picture of our economic outlook and called on all of us to help. 

But we know, don't we, that it was exactly his appointment replacing Pravin Gordhan as well as the sacking of Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015 that played a huge role in our economic decline. These steps downgraded our creditworthiness and undermined confidence in our economy.

We also know, don't we, that the multi-billion rand fiasco at Eskom, Prasa, SAA, Transnet and other state owned enterprises was a huge reason for the sluggish growth in South Africa, which has been much lower than in the rest of the region and most of the world.

And how can we forget that this decline started when the very same Gigaba replaced the axed Barbara Hogan as minister of public enterprises and went on to replace the boards of these institutions with Zuma/Gupta loyalists?

(Former Eskom CEO Brian Dames recently told Parliament that the "whole one changed" when these appointments were made.)

Gigaba told us that the balance sheet was looking nasty because there is a revenue shortfall of R50,8 billion.

He did not mention or look at the man a few metres away from him who is mostly responsible for this state of affairs: Tom Moyane, head of SARS.

My colleague Jacques Pauw's new book, The President's Keepers, gives a blow by blow account with overwhelming evidence of precisely how President Jacob Zuma used his state security apparatus to undermine SARS after it started investigating him and his wealthy benefactors.

All the knowledgeable and ethical leaders at SARS were driven out, Moyane took over and today SARS is a mere shadow of its former glorious self with limited capacity and many scandals brewing.

Pauw provides a detailed account of how billions in tax revenue were lost after Moyane dropped all investigations into the tax affairs of Zuma and his super rich friends.

The special investigative unit that had cornered the illicit cigarette trade was humiliated and dismissed, with the result that the state lost in the region of R16 billion.

(Pauw also describes how the other Zuma son, Edward, was part of this criminal empire.)

If all the tax owed by the gang leaders, tax criminals and other wealthy tax evaders Pauw writes about – and surely there must be others – and the money owed by the illegal cigarette smugglers were fully collected by SARS, there probably would not have been a shortfall in Gigaba's mid-term budget.

But then we also read in Pauw's book how Zuma himself had evaded paying tax and lied about his income, so what could one expect?

One of the main factors making investors, the business sector and rating agencies jittery, is the disturbing and overwhelming lack of accountability in the state.

We read about yet another ugly scandal every single day, complete with documents and emails, but neither the Hawks nor the National Prosecuting Authority lifts a finger, while the Public Protector appears to be more a Zuma protector.

Again Pauw's book gives a blow by blow explanation of how Zuma, state security, the Guptas and other criminals systematically went about getting rid of all the honest, diligent officials at the Hawks, SARS, crime intelligence and the NPA and replaced them with incompetent and dishonest Zuma loyalists.

Gigaba obviously didn't make any mention of this threat to our economy.

He really is between a rock and a hard place. Two weeks ago, in an interview with CNN's Richard Quest, he gave a clear indication that he had future presidential ambitions.

If he wants a bright political future, he would need to be a successful finance minister or he would be blamed when the economy implodes.

But everything he would have to do to avoid this, agitates against that which his sponsor, Zuma – and Zuma's inner circle and benefactors – want to see happen.

Gigaba actually turned to Zuma at the end of his budget address and thanked him for his strong and clear leadership. Ja, right. He probably also heard the rumours that Zuma was planning to fire him too if he wasn't prepared to do his bidding.

Gigaba wasn't honest about the roots of our economic crisis, but at least he was honest about the real state of our economy.

Let's hope his ambitions are stronger than his loyalties to Zuma and the Guptas; that he is going to veto the Russian nuclear power plans, say a clear nyet to civil servants who are now insisting on a 10 percent plus increase, generally keep a close watch over the state purse and prevent his comrades of the RET/WMC kind from damaging the economy.

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