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Fi­nance Min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene out; David van Rooyen in; Fi­nance Min­is­ter Van Rooyen out; Pravin Gord­han in. The tur­bu­lence be­gan on Thurs­day, De­cem­ber 10 2015. Over the next two days, it be­came a gale, then a storm. On Sun­day, the “per­fect storm” that was des­tined to hap­pen ta­pered off.

It has not ended though. It con­tin­ues to seethe and froth like an ac­tive vol­cano, wait­ing to erupt. It sends a mes­sage: “An­tic­i­pate me to your sal­va­tion; ig­nore me to your damna­tion.”

Blog­ger Sarah Free­man de­scribes a “per­fect storm” as “a con­ver­gence of forces or cir­cum­stances that work to­gether in the worst of all pos­si­ble ways in or­der to mag­nify the in­ten­sity and im­pact of an al­ready neg­a­tive event”. In South Africa, though, it is now the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­ries of neg­a­tive events that have been build­ing up over two decades of post-1994 democ­racy.

At first steady and not easy to recog­nise in the eu­pho­ria of the first five years of free­dom, the events, per­haps be­gin­ning with what came to be known as the arms deal, be­gan to run, can­ter and then gal­lop out of con­trol. In their mo­men­tum, they be­gan to show signs of a sys­tem by which to gen­er­ate and re­pro­duce them­selves. This sys­tem is strid­ing to­wards ma­tu­rity in the pres­i­dency of Ja­cob Zuma. It will not reach ma­tu­rity yet, but may be­come more self-con­scious.

“I have de­cided to re­move Mr Nh­lanhla Nene as min­is­ter of fi­nance ahead of his de­ploy­ment to an­other strate­gic po­si­tion.” This was how Pres­i­dent Zuma an­nounced the ax­ing of Min­is­ter Nene. There was a tech­ni­cal fi­nal­ity in that cold, terse state­ment.

If Nene had been a rogue spender of public funds, cel­e­bra­tions would have erupted upon such pres­i­den­tial de­ci­sive­ness. But he was a highly re­spected fi­nance min­is­ter who had demon­strated re­gard for the con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments ex­pected of a public of­fi­cer of his stand­ing. The pres­i­dent’s curt dis­missal of him pro­claimed its own in­suf­fi­ciency.

Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe was the first to fol­low with a state­ment. In all like­li­hood, Pres­i­dent Zuma knew of it and ap­proved it.

“This is a post-Cab­i­net brief­ing,” Radebe be­gan, in an un­sched­uled brief­ing, “and Cab­i­net hap­pened on Wed­nes­day. At the con­clu­sion of the Cab­i­net meet­ing, there was no new fi­nance min­is­ter and there was no way we could have pre­dicted [what would hap­pen].” In­deed, he went on to add: “I don’t think Cab­i­net had an idea that there was go­ing to be a reshuf­fle, be­cause this was the pres­i­dent’s pre­rog­a­tive.”

Radebe’s words re­vealed that Zuma’s Cab­i­net was for­mally ig­no­rant of the pres­i­dent’s in­ten­tions. This also af­firmed Zuma’s pres­i­den­tial pre­rog­a­tive to keep them ig­no­rant. The two “facts” to­gether have a pow­er­ful ef­fect. One is to get us to de­duce that Radebe was him­self not trusted enough by Zuma to be part of a mo­men­tous de­ci­sion. We can even read his state­ment as a sub­tle protest: “I, too, am among the ig­no­rant who have been de­nied im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion.” But Radebe’s state­ment, as tech­ni­cally curt as the pres­i­dent’s, achieved more: it en­deav­oured to ef­fect a tech­ni­cal clo­sure to a cat­a­strophic event.

Does the tech­ni­cal­ity of Cab­i­net’s ig­no­rance nec­es­sar­ily im­ply all in Cab­i­net were fac­tu­ally ig­no­rant? Could there have been, among the com­mu­nity of the “tech­ni­cally ig­no­rant”, Cab­i­net mem­bers who were “in the know”?

If no one in Zuma’s Cab­i­net was con­sulted by Zuma, who then did he con­sult? Ei­ther there are peo­ple he con­sulted in Cab­i­net who would then be­come “tech­ni­cally ig­no­rant” within the for­mal­ity of Cab­i­net, or he con­sulted peo­ple out­side Cab­i­net. There is a third op­tion: Pres­i­dent Zuma ar­rived at his de­ci­sion com­pletely alone, with­out ref­er­ence to any other liv­ing be­ing. Did he?

Each of these car­ries dire im­pli­ca­tions for three things: the char­ac­ter of gov­er­nance within a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy; the na­ture and qual­ity of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship within the democ­racy; and the in­creas­ingly fraught re­la­tion­ship be­tween po­lit­i­cal power and cap­i­tal.

Public sys­tems are wont to be opaque, trans­par­ent or to trudge a mean in be­tween. The com­bi­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Zuma’s and Min­is­ter Radebe’s re­spec­tive state­ments gives us an in­sight into the na­ture of the gov­er­nance of the South African state at this mo­ment.

The coun­try con­tin­ues to aspire to and af­firm a hu­man rights-driven con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy. Judg­ing from the con­duct of the gov­ern­ing party, the ANC, which for two decades has shaped both the public and pri­vate con­duct of its gov­ern­ing elites, this is still true. But this is be­ing hol­lowed out by re­source­ful, even in­tel­li­gent, non­trans­par­ent be­hav­iour.

The ef­fect of such con­duct over time is to struc­ture

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