Genius Maine, pull up a chair
After being elected head of the ANC Youth League in September and being subjected to parodies and mirth, Collen Maine needed something that would make people take him seriously. Not even the #FeesMustFall uprising had given him any profile, as it suggested that the league was a force of the past and leadership of young people had moved to other, more dynamic hands.
When he did pop up during that time, he came up with some ridiculous statements that were designed more to fight his Premier League sponsors’ battles with Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande than to give weight to the students’ cause. And, by the way, if anybody could really lend weight to those struggles, it would have to be him – he is hot on the heels of Khulubuse Zuma in the kilogram stakes.
Then came December and that infamous axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister. Even before the country had felt the impact of the markets’ reaction to the decision, the ANC and its allies reacted in a perplexed fashion. The party issued a muted statement respecting the president’s prerogative, labour federation Cosatu said it was “shocked and disconcerted” by the “ill-timed” decision, while the SA Communist Party merely noted the reshuffle.
As President Jacob Zuma was pummelled left, right and centre, no significant individual came to his defence.
That was until Umkhonto weSizwe Veterans Association leader Kebby Maphatsoe, whose wayward utterances betray his affinity for King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo’s favourite herb, piped up and said something nonsensical in defence of Zuma. Everyone just laughed and dismissed him.
Then came Maine, seeking approval from the president and the big men of the Premier League. He dished out his superb understanding of economics as he explained the market’s violent reaction to Zuma’s decision.
“Nene is not so special that the rand can fall because of him. Who is he?” Maine told a News24 journalist.
The sage continued: “It’s not about Nhlanhla Nene; it’s because of the recession we are in that the economy is not growing … and there are problems with the rand. He might be beautiful to others, but he’s not so beautiful that he can make the rand fall.”
His sentiments were shared by others in the governing party who, while disapproving of Zuma’s actions, were just as incensed by what they regarded as the bullying ways of the markets and the business sector.
This was in stark contrast to Cosatu, which overcame its socialist bent to recognise the power of the markets and their aversion to uncertainty.
“Minister Nene’s tenure was very short and the economic sector does not cope well with abrupt and unqualified changes, because that creates uncertainty. Our economy is, unfortunately, globalised, and we cannot ignore the realities that come with operating in such an environment,” said Cosatu.
This was precisely the point. Just because your ideological posture renders capital your enemy does not mean you must ignore its power. This is a lesson that an organisation that invested so much energy in past decades in mobilising capital against apartheid must understand.
The ANC understood this much better than the PW Botha regime, which gave a middle finger to a disapproving world in the 1980s. It is a lesson the ANC learnt first-hand when Nelson Mandela’s government failed to sensitise the markets to Trevor Manuel’s readiness to take over the reins at finance.
Thabo Mbeki’s administration was severely punished in the early 2000s when some underhanded individual leaked a draft miningsector-empowerment proposal, sending the markets into a tailspin. Government was forced to go back to the drawing board to draft more “acceptable” proposals with the mining sector.
Governments elsewhere in the world have been similarly punished by the markets when they make inexplicable decisions. Markets are powerful and will continue to be so until the socialist heaven arrives in a few thousand years’ time. Even the Communist Party of China, the current high priest of modern socialism, understands this and uses state-owned entities to manage market behaviour.
This is the reality that geniuses such as Maine need to grasp. And it is a reality that current and future leaders of our republic will need to grasp to avoid making even more stupid decisions.