South Africa is poised on a knife edge. Anything can happen. Last week Pravin Gordhan the Minister of Finance and former head of the S African Revenue Service, plus his deputy were recalled from London in the midst of a promotional roadshow for potential investors. Upon their return home, each was fired by the very president who appointed them. You will recall that a short while back President Zuma dismissed the then incorruptable finance minister, Nene and replaced him with a compliable Van Royen. The world markets reacted predictably and the S African currency began to slide furiously. A suddenly frightened Zuma was persuaded to appoint Gordhan, who is a seasoned economist. All of this happened within a week! A semblance of stability returned to the economy. The president was set back in his plans to capture the key ministry, but that did not signal normality. He had other plans up his sleeve.
Above all of this was the manipulative hand of a former family of Indian nationals, namely the Guptas, who recently obtained S African citizenship. This financially powerful and influential family saw the ease with which corruption was becoming the norm and decided to move in very decisively. From their luxurious Saxonwold mansion in Johannesburg they wanted not just access to lucrative tenders, but direct influence on the president and the appointing of various ministers who could be compromised. They succeeded, perhaps beyond their own dreams. The president and various ministers as well as potential corruptible appointees were regulars at Saxonwold and some were offered massive bribes, ostensibly, to fix matters. This insidious development met with outrage across the land. The president and his surrogates were untouched. The Guptas beat a well timed retreat to Dubai, from where their manipulation continues. Even the explosive report of the Public Protector on ‘state capture’ by the Guptas was smothered and the president bided his time. Like S Africas famed snake, the Black Mamba, he would strike with deadly force when it was time to do so.
Coincidentally, two matters came to a head almost at the same time last week, namely the death of a much loved struggle veteran and fellow prisoner with Mandela on Robben Island, Ahmed Kathrada, and the reshuffling of the cabinet to get Gordhan out of the way. Gordhan defiantly refused to step down and faced the wrath of a president who would not be thwarted. Gordhan stood between him and his fervent wish to get the funding of one trillion Rand to secure the purchase of between 6-8 nuclear power plants from Russia’s Rosatom. This represents the single largest expenditure in the history of the country and has the real potential to bankrupt S Africa. It is important to remember that this amount is equivalent to almost the entire GDP of the country. When seen in the face of the suppression of the government’s own electricity supply commission endorsing the development of S Africa’s massive potential in renewable energy sources, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the release of such vast sums will facilitate massive corruption, on a scale hitherto unknown. It has already begun. There is no credible supporter for Zuma’s nuclear plans. There are hosts of reports and findings endorsing the harnessing of renewable energy, with which S Africa is generously endowed and will, moreover, be safe and create thousands of jobs.
Perhaps this president did not figure out the rage that his actions have spurred. The family of the late Kathrada pointedly asked the president to stay away from his funeral arrangements. Kathrada’s widow, lashed out at the betrayal of Zuma of the proud traditions of the ANC and the people of S Africa. Bishop Desmond Tutu, other faith based leaders, civil sociey organisations, politicians, even within the ANC have condemned and backed away from his actions. In the coming week a range of opposition political parties and more, importantly, civil society organisations have called for a complete stay away and acts of civil disobedience.
A very slippery and slithering president is being cornered. His cunning manoeuvres and dodging the more than 800 charges against him are legendary, in as much as his raids on the public purse. It was not possible to accomplished this on his own and so he packed the government with those who would do his bidding, and of course, enrich themselves in the process, as a part of the deal. All the parastatals and key ministries were headed by those chosen and appointed as ‘pliable’ and partial to the wishes of the president. Their general lack of competence was a plus in their pliability. The media and the Office of the Public Protector exposed on a regular basis the raiding of the parastatals
The chances for chaos in Nelson Mandela’s homeland is great but so is the opportunity of getting a shot at the country re-inventing itself, in other words a second revolution, perhaps as great as the one that ended Apartheid and ushered in democracy. Few doubt today that the transition was seriously flawed. The compromises made in 1994 caused many to say that Mandela and the ANC sold out the struggle for real emancipation and settled for A World Bank/IMF brokered deal that was not in the interest of the people.
That Mandela’s government agreed to take over repayment of the money borrowed by the oppressors during the worst years of Apartheid repression was perhaps the first outrage. This was quickly followed by government silencing calls for the payment of reparations for the exploitation of Western multinational companies operating under Apartheid. The governments much vaunted Reconstruction and Development Programme of social reconstruction, was, at the insistence of the international banks, placed on the back burner and snuffed out. Little was done to address white corporate control of the economy. The ownership of the land remained much the same as under Apartheid. Academia remained unchanged and the training and development needs of an emerging economy (as skewered as it was) were ignored. Similarly, little was done to address the corrosive legacies of racism, slavery, indenture, sexism and colonialism. A new democratic order emerged that was a band-aid hotchpotch of neo-liberalism. The ANC’s Freedom Charter of basic rights was quietly ignored and remains unfulfilled. The accommodation of a few persons of colour into the white controlled economy and the creation of a black elite is transparently provocative. The people will not accept the continuation of this order.
This is the reason that I believe that S Africa is lucky to get a second shot at revolutionary development. It has all the mistakes to learn from and develop a powerful civil society that will direct the emergence of a true peoples’ government.
P R Dullay is an academic, author, columnist, human rights and environmental activist
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03 April 2017