TEBOGO KHAAS MSHOLOZI AND HIS ECO­NOMIC HIT MEN

Pres­i­dent Zuma’s plan to plun­der SA and flee shows we have a head of state with no con­science

CityPress - - News - Voices@city­press.co.za Khaas is a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Cor­po­rate SA, a Johannesburg-based strate­gic ad­vi­sory con­sul­tancy. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @tebo­gokhaas

South Africa’s cur­rent eco­nomic woes can largely be blamed on the va­garies of glob­al­i­sa­tion and fail­ure by the ANC govern­ment to im­ple­ment its much-vaunted eco­nomic poli­cies. The coun­try’s prob­lems are, how­ever, ex­ac­er­bated by an or­gan­ised con­spir­acy to raid its na­tional purse by a few eco­nomic hit men aided and abet­ted by an im­per­vi­ous pres­i­dent. Let me ex­plain. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma has suc­cess­fully ejected in­di­vid­u­als con­sid­ered a bul­wark against his ne­far­i­ous schemes from Na­tional Trea­sury and other key govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions. He has created a cor­don san­i­taire nec­es­sary to en­able his unim­peded pil­lag­ing of the na­tional purse.

Recog­nis­ing the in­ten­si­fy­ing na­tional op­pro­brium that threat­ens to stymie his grand-theft scheme, Zuma and his apol­o­gists have sought to pla­cate rest­less black vot­ers by latch­ing on to a chimeri­cal con­cept called “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion”.

This con­cept is de­signed to mask grand loot­ing of state re­sources by Zuma, his cronies and eco­nomic hit men. In the mean­time, the black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment project con­tin­ues to fal­ter.

In his in­ter­na­tional best­seller, Con­fes­sions of An Eco­nomic Hit Man, John Perkins de­scribes eco­nomic hit men as po­lit­i­cally ex­posed per­sons who raid and ex­pa­tri­ate funds from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries’ na­tional cof­fers with the tacit knowl­edge and con­nivance of the coun­try’s rulers un­der the pre­text of pro­vid­ing “much­needed” pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture.

When these coun­tries de­fault on ser­vic­ing debt in­curred in ful­fill­ing pub­lic projects, eco­nomic hit men call in their pound of flesh. They usu­ally ef­fect this by de­mand­ing con­ces­sions – on favourable terms – in re­spect of the coun­try’s min­eral re­sources or votes at cru­cial UN meet­ings.

Coun­tries are there­fore com­pelled to cede their sovereignty to for­eign­ers who are fi­nan­cial bene­fac­tors of the pres­i­dent.

South Africa’s eco­nomic hit men in­clude the Gupta family and, os­ten­si­bly, Rus­sian and Chi­nese oli­garchs.

Al­though South Africa is un­likely, at least in the short term, to de­fault on ser­vic­ing its pub­lic debt obli­ga­tions, lim­ited pub­lic re­sources come un­der con­sid­er­able strain to meet com­pet­ing so­cioe­co­nomic needs.

Zuma’s in­sa­tiable greed knows no bounds. He and his eco­nomic hit men are sin­gle-minded on cheat­ing South Africa into un­der­tak­ing large pub­lic projects solely de­signed to en­rich them­selves.

With the Gupta family’s al­leged cap­ture of the state, cou­pled with their pro­cliv­ity to siphon funds il­lic­itly de­rived from pub­lic projects to for­eign ju­ris­dic­tions; South Africa’s over­re­liance on im­ported cap­i­tal-in­ten­sive pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture; and pro­cure­ment of grant­dis­burse­ment so­lu­tions from a for­eign-owned en­tity, it is clear that Zuma’s ver­sion of “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion” is not in­tended to ad­vance gen­uine black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment.

As Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion dithers from one cor­rup­tion scan­dal to an­other, in­vestor con­fi­dence con­tin­ues to plum­met. Whereas Gen­eral Mo­tors’ di­vesti­ture in the South African econ­omy is re­port­edly due to nor­mal global eco­nomic ar­bi­trage, it is, how­ever, feared that po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in the coun­try may have also contributed to its de­ci­sion to leave. It is likely that fur­ther di­vest­ments by other multi­na­tion­als and at­ten­dant cap­i­tal out­flows may fol­low.

While Gen­eral Mo­tors’ de­par­ture is re­gret­table, this – for­tu­itously – presents an op­por­tu­nity for South Africa to ac­cel­er­ate in­vest­ment in its own high-tech mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties just as South Korea, Malaysia and China have suc­cess­fully done.

In­sa­tiable de­mand for safe, re­li­able and af­ford­able pub­lic trans­port (for ex­am­ple, minibus taxis and in­te­grated bus-rail tran­sit sys­tems) presents an op­por­tu­nity for the emer­gence of gen­uine black in­dus­tri­al­ists who could suc­cess­fully com­pete with es­tab­lished for­eign man­u­fac­tur­ers in lo­cal and for­eign mar­kets.

Also, as­sum­ing there is jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a nu­clear build pro­gramme, there seems to be no rea­son why lo­cal black in­dus­tri­al­ists could not be af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to ac­quire the nec­es­sary tech­ni­cal knowhow to build the plant. This is par­tic­u­larly com­pelling given the dis­clo­sure that the ill-fated me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing South Africa had with Rus­sia would have freed Rus­sia from any tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial risk as­so­ci­ated with the project. South Africa has, in the past, shown that – with the nec­es­sary po­lit­i­cal will and sup­port – black en­trepreneurs are ca­pa­ble of un­der­tak­ing projects con­sid­ered high-tech. In the early 2000s, Telkom suc­cess­fully com­mis­sioned a lo­cal black­owned com­pany to man­u­fac­ture and sup­ply mil­lions of chip-based tele­phone cards. This was a coun­try-first as Telkom had, be­fore then, im­ported all its phone cards from France.

To­day, South Africa boasts a world-class smart card man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try ca­pa­ble of meet­ing de­mand for smart cards by the bank­ing, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and govern­ment sec­tors.

For South Africa to pros­per, it needs to choke pub­lic cor­rup­tion on whose preva­lence eco­nomic hit men and po­lit­i­cally ex­posed per­sons thrive. It also needs a govern­ment that will doggedly im­ple­ment its much­vaunted eco­nomic poli­cies and fos­ter a thriv­ing lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and the ANC’s re­peated pre­var­i­ca­tion on rein­ing in its er­rant pres­i­dent does not, how­ever, bode well for the coun­try’s eco­nomic prospects.

South Africa has a pres­i­dent with a sim­ple plan: plun­der the scarce re­sources of the coun­try by any means nec­es­sary and, as sus­pected, flee the coun­try in or­der to es­cape ac­count­abil­ity af­ter repa­tri­at­ing ill-got­ten gains off­shore. This is what raises most South Africans’ col­lec­tive tem­per. One of for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s few dis­plays of tem­per, aimed at then pres­i­dent FW de Klerk, came at the end of the first day at Codesa when he ad­dressed the ple­nary thus: “Even the head of an il­le­git­i­mate, dis­cred­ited mi­nor­ity regime, as his [De Klerk’s], has cer­tain moral stan­dards to up­hold.”

I was tempted to ap­pro­pri­ate Madiba’s words and ap­peal to Zuma – head of an in­ept, dis­cred­ited ma­jor­ity regime – to ac­cede to his compatriots’ clam­our for him to grace­fully step aside.

But then I re­alised that, un­like Zuma, at least De Klerk had a con­science that Madiba could ap­peal to.

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