Manuel is singing for his supper
Dear Mr Manuel, nonexecutive chair of Old Mutual Group
Please pardon me, firstly, for bombarding you with an exposition of this nature when you have the cumbersome task of leading a huge company like Old Mutual, whose business success you have a fiduciary duty to ensure and which you rely on for your next pay cheque.
You fall flat in your argument and start raising your voice in your song for your supper, wherein you wittingly exaggerate the presence of an invisible hand in matters of the state, and deliberately place an immoral and dishonest entity called “business” in a sacred space. You concisely express the respect that you think business deserves when interacting with it, when you say: “The picture I am sketching for you is that the saga of dismissing a competent minister and replacing him without warning or explanation led to a complete breakdown in trust.”
You further say: “If this view holds, the trust is not broken only with Cabinet, of course. It is also broken with the ANC, with the broader South African electorate, with the markets and with that entity you call ‘business’.”
Among the many things we learn in the seminal intervention of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels through The Communist Manifesto is that, in a capitalist society such as South Africa, “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. So, any government in a capitalist society rules in the interests of the ruling class and is not immune from manipulation from that class, just that the degree of influence of the capitalist class varies from government to government, depending on government’s capacity to discipline capital. The implicit argument of an outside hand beyond the ruling party bites the dust because it is inherent in capitalist governments that there are those with vested interests beyond the politicians and they are, in many instances, responsible for the politician’s rise to office.
I am certain many will concur with my assessment when I say that the Des van Rooyen saga is a sharp reminder and further proof of the lesson by Marx and Engels. In this instance, we have two contending factions within the bourgeoisie as a whole who are fighting to capture the state for the sole purpose of profit maximisation.
Advocates of the emerging capitalists, who are hoping to pocket billions from the proposed SAA acquisition of assets and the proposed nuclear deal, saw former minister Nhlanhla Nene as a stumbling block. These new entrants to the capitalist’s jungle see the “competently unknown” Van Rooyen as a candle of hope who will not only provide light, but burn the red tapes that prohibit them from increasing their profits and allowing them to compete favourably with the already established capitalist.
On the other hand, the already established bourgeoisie see Van Rooyen as a threat to their hegemony and monopoly, and would prefer someone like Nene or Pravin Gordhan, who you want us to believe are neutral, competent and incorruptible. The established bourgeoisie prefers these “heavyweights”, so that there is certainty and stability in the markets for their profit accumulation path to continue undisrupted.
Contrary to what ardent defenders of white monopoly capital would like us to believe – that market stability is a symbol of development and a panacea to the problems of the South African working class – our people are now acutely aware that this is just a single microeconomic indicator that has very little to do with the wellbeing of the majority, but everything to do with a conducive environment for the capitalist class to maximise their profit.
In fact, the South African working class is starting to ask the important question: “What does market stability mean, if anything?”
Neither the appointment nor the removal have anything to do with the working class, but the two contending factions of the bourgeoisie.
I think you are aware that many argue that you also remained minister of finance for a very long time, against the wishes of the South African working class and, I suspect, even those of our movement, because you were preferred and liked by the dominant faction of the ruling class.
To use the word ‘trust’ to characterise the premise of the relationship between business and the government, or imply that business requires credible finance ministers, is bordering on subjectivism, because you know very well that business is only loyal to profit. They only trust those who will ensure that profits accrue to them and those are the only credible people in their light – that is why they did business with apartheid South Africa and continue to do business with illegitimate regimes without one iota of guilt.
I find it very interesting that in your letter you chose not to comment on the power dynamics that were at play in reversing Van Rooyen’s deployment and what this means for our constitutional democracy.
Van Rooyen’s redeployment is testimony to what Marx and Engels taught us, and reinforces that we live under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
The reaction of business or markets, especially the decline of the rand, when compared with other currencies, was a sign that the dominant faction of the bourgeoisie is fighting back in defence of the space and the hegemony they enjoy in it.
Like all factions in any sphere of life, they fought back with what is at their disposal, through threatening to disinvest, withholding planned investments and all other tricks that will ensure that the democratically elected government retreats and finally does what will sustain their profit maximisation without any disruption.
By all measures, this is a recipe for disaster, because we have seen it in many instances undermining the will of South Africa in the interests of a few powerful players of the capitalist class. I am hoping that you will also help us find solutions to this constitutional crisis the ruling class is pushing us into.
Your argument is clumsy because it overlooks all lessons history has taught us about the relationship between business and the government. It deliberately wants to place capital as an important site of power beyond reproach so that society leaves it unattended and it continues to maximise profits for a few, unabated. Your argument is based on an unhelpful liberal mantra that business is about trust, honesty and integrity, yet history is littered with many examples of corrupt business activities. The lyrics of the song you chose do not create the required ambiance. Sorry, Mr Manuel.
Yours in struggle