Zuma: A loot-a con­tinua

CityPress - - Voices -

When a plane car­ry­ing the wed­ding guests of the Gupta fam­ily landed at the Waterk­loof Air Force Base in 2013, the coun­try was con­sumed with out­rage. To many, this brazen vi­o­la­tion of our sovereignty was proof that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma had sold the coun­try to his friends and the bene­fac­tors of his fam­ily. They thought we had plumbed the depths – that this was the low­est Zuma could pos­si­bly go.

This in­ci­dent seems to have faded from mem­ory and pales into in­signif­i­cance com­pared with the dam­age Zuma has wrought on our coun­try since. He has gone on to in­flict wounds on the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Author­ity, the SA Po­lice Ser­vice, the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Direc­torate, the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice and other key state in­sti­tu­tions. His po­lit­i­cal party has not been spared ei­ther. Zuma’s cor­rupt­ible ways have in­fected its ranks and en­cour­aged a cul­ture that seems to say that ac­cess to pub­lic of­fice equals ac­cess to the pub­lic purse. This ra­pa­cious prac­tice has spawned fac­tion­al­ism on a grand scale as mem­bers fight over what right­fully be­longs to the pub­lic. This fac­tion­al­ism has af­fected gov­er­nance, de­ci­sion mak­ing and the abil­ity to de­liver pub­lic ser­vices.

The heavy toll of the Zuma pres­i­dency is in­cal­cu­la­ble. This week, he added to his list of ca­su­al­ties. At the stroke of a pen, he de­stroyed do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional con­fi­dence in South Africa’s fis­cal man­age­ment regime when he fired Fi­nance Min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene.

Since the early days of our democ­racy, Na­tional Trea­sury de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a world­class fi­nance de­part­ment. It at­tracted the bright­est minds and its staff mem­bers were poached by lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.

Pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents recog­nised the im­por­tance of the Trea­sury and gave it all the sup­port it needed.

More cru­cially, they ac­corded it in­de­pen­dence and the power to say no to spend­thrift min­istries and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments.

Trea­sury’s tight hand and its in­flu­ence over eco­nomic pol­icy earned it many en­e­mies – in gov­ern­ment and on the po­lit­i­cal left.

But with sup­port­ive pres­i­dents in Nel­son Man­dela and Thabo Mbeki, it was able to keep the coun­try on a tra­jec­tory of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

When Zuma came into of­fice, he seemed to get this. He ap­pointed the well-re­spected Pravin Gord­han as fi­nance min­is­ter in 2009 and gave him the space to op­er­ate the Trea­sury with as much au­ton­omy as his pre­de­ces­sor, Trevor Manuel.

But rea­sons for con­cern arose late in Gord­han’s ten­ure as whis­pers be­gan about a strain in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Zuma and the fi­nance de­part­ment. When Gord­han was not re­turned to his post af­ter last year’s elec­tions, the de­vel­op­ment was seen as a re­moval, not a de­ploy­ment of his skills to the lo­cal gov­ern­ment port­fo­lio.

But the as­cen­sion of Nene, who had served as deputy to Gord­han and Manuel, was re­as­sur­ing.

His acu­men, ex­pe­ri­ence and grav­i­tas more than made up for the fact that he was not a po­lit­i­cal heavy­weight like his pre­de­ces­sors. It dis­pelled fears that he could be bul­lied into mak­ing ir­re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions by his peers or his prin­ci­pal.

His 18-month ten­ure was too brief to give him a proper mark for his per­for­mance. But the sen­ti­ment in po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness cir­cles was that he was the right man to guide the South African econ­omy through these choppy times and pre­vent us from spend­ing money we do not have.

But Zuma had other ideas. His un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous sack­ing of Nene and pro­mo­tion of some­one with all the pedi­gree of an El­ler­ines fur­ni­ture sales­man was tan­ta­mount to com­mit­ting eco­nomic trea­son.

Within min­utes, the rand lost 5% of its value and by the end of the week, it had lost 10%. The mar­kets also felt the pain of Zuma’s an­nounce­ment. Did the pres­i­dent care? Did he feel the need to calm neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment, douse the anger through­out South Africa and con­tain the con­fu­sion in the party’s se­nior ranks? Nyet!

The next time he was seen in pub­lic was when he ar­rived in Paris for the cli­mate change talks, wear­ing his trade­mark grin.

Zuma can grin be­cause he is con­fi­dent that once the noise has died down, he will con­tinue on his merry way, mis­gov­ern­ing the coun­try and en­rich­ing his fam­ily and friends. His es­cape from cen­sure has left South Africans feel­ing pow­er­less and hop­ing the peo­ple who cos­set him will catch a wake-up.

But how long will the peo­ple have to wait be­fore mem­bers of the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, na­tional work­ing com­mit­tee and other struc­tures of the party re­alise this man is de­mol­ish­ing the re­pub­lic?

How long be­fore they see that the pres­i­dent is a ser­vant not of the peo­ple, but of greedy in­ter­ests? How long be­fore they ac­cept that South Africa can­not go on like this? What will it take be­fore they rein him in and tell him he will only com­plete his term on their terms?

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