Nene apology doesn’t redeem him
● Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has apologised for meeting the Gupta family.
His admission about several meetings was made at the Zondo commission investigating allegations of state capture.
The apology followed in a statement on Friday.
Nene told the commission that he met the Guptas between 2010 and 2014 at their business premises in Midrand and their Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg.
His evidence contradicted previous assertions that he had met the family only at public events.
“In return for the trust and faith that you have placed on [sic] me, I owe you conduct as a public office bearer that is beyond reproach. But I am human too, I do make mistakes, including those of poor judgment,” Nene said in the statement.
Revelations about the meetings have turned Nene from public darling to persona non grata, with some on social media calling for his resignation.
Nene is no stranger to controversy as finance minister. In December 2015, then president Jacob Zuma fired Nene, replacing him with Des van Rooyen.
Nene was reappointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year.
Nene’s testimony to the commission dealt a harsh blow to Ramaphosa’s bid to clean up the high levels of corruption in the government and restore public trust.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga described Nene’s apology as condescending. He said the minister appeared to be apologising for meeting the Guptas outside of his office, not for meeting with them in the first place.
Mathekga said he did not expect Nene to resign, but he believed that it would be the right move because it would be difficult for him to regain public trust.
“There is no way that he can just escape this because the problem is that he withheld information,” said Mathekga
He said what made matters worse was that when Zuma fired Nene in 2015, he had let the public, including Pravin Gordhan, fight for him, while he remained silent. Nene returned as a “messiah”.
However, his reputation was now lost and Mathekga said the problem at this stage was that people did not know what Nene might not be disclosing.
Nene leaving his position now could be a problem because he is due to present the medium-term budget policy statement later this month. The country finds itself in a tenuous position, with ratings agencies keeping close tabs on state spending.
In Zuma’s last term, the Treasury became a highly contested terrain because of the president’s plans to embark on a nuclear procurement programme with Russia’s Rosatom.
Over the past three years, the department of finance has had five ministers, including Nene’s two separate stints. The uncertainty around the department coincided with a weakening fiscal position.
Ratings agency Moody’s had been expected to make an announcement regarding the country’s ratings. National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane does not see the agency downgrading the country even if SA implements only half the interventions proposed at this week’s jobs summit.
Moody’s is the only agency that has retained SA on investment grade. S&P Global Ratings and Fitch downgraded SA to junk last year. This has increased the government’s borrowing costs slightly. Both agencies
‘I am human too, I do make mistakes, including those of poor judgment’
are expected to update their ratings later this year.
Mogajane told Business Times on the sidelines of the presidential jobs summit that the government had a “good conversation” with Moody’s last month when the agency held an investor summit in Johannesburg.
“That tells me we are on a better footing for now, but all that we need to do is to take advantage of the story that we had put out and the package that we announced a few weeks ago, including the [jobs summit] framework agreement. Then we are in good shape.”
Mogajane was referring to Ramaphosa’s announcement last month that reprioritised R50bn in the budget for job creation. The state will set up an infrastructure fund over the next three years with R400bn already allocated in the budget and will also draw financing from banks, private lenders and development finance institutions. The plan did not include increased spending and borrowing.
Moody’s scheduled a ratings review update for Friday but said in September that this date was tentative. Mogajane and Nene will be attending the IMF/World Bank meetings in Bali, Indonesia, from Friday to Sunday.
If there’s one universal truth that we’ve gathered from the disastrous presidency of Jacob Zuma it is that if you were of any use to him personally and in his public life, you had to at least meet one member of the infamous Gupta family. And if you were really important, those meetings weren’t merely at the master’s table at any ANC gathering, but in the confines of their family home in Saxonwold. To varying degrees, the survival of any minister or state official was dependent on how happy the president’s inner circle was with their performance. In the worst-case scenarios keeping Zuma’s friends happy was more important than looking after the state itself. To serve in his administration, one had to meet these very important friends, and if you were of a weak character, you’d bow to their will. So the fact that finance minister Nhlanhla Nene had met the former first family (one can only hope that this is true) is by itself no surprise. The fact that he and his one-time deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, had at one stage visited their compound in the leafy suburb of Saxonwold was less surprising.
The question is what these public servants did after receiving instructions from the family. The heroes in the “state capture” story line so far are of those men and women who rejected whatever instructions they received from the unofficial headquarters of state and party. The penalty for these people in the final, and rather desperate, years of Zuma’s presidency was there for all to see in the many midnight reshuffles.
Nene’s recall on that December evening three years ago cast him as one of these heroes in the battle against the capturing of the state. His axing was perhaps the most audacious powerplay by a rather desperate president to appease some important friends, among them Russian
President Vladimir Putin. When the history books cover his presidency, they’ll mark that evening as the peak of his powers. Whatever little legitimacy it had was lost from that point.
Well that was what would have been in my first draft of any history about the decade of Zuma, with Nene’s role defined as that of the unassuming hero. This week has, however, changed the narrative. The integrity of our hero has been sullied, and by the man himself.
As I said earlier, I’ve come to accept that meeting the Gupta family was virtually unavoidable for the most senior ministers in Zuma’s cabinet and, to be fair, for the cabinets of his predecessor. What is disappointing, and especially for me as one of his chief backers, is that Nene chose to lie about the extent of his interactions with the family.
“It is reasonable of the public to expect public office bearers to own up fully and timeously to the mistakes they make in the course of carrying out their public duties. I should also have disclosed early, and fully, the details of these meetings, in particular those that took place in Saxonwold,” Nene said in a Friday apology to the nation.
His visits, as he admits, cast a shadow on his conduct.
Why hide the extent of your dealings with the family? It has only raised questions of his judgment. Was the nuclear stand against Zuma the only one he made? Were there other moments where he rolled over to make the president’s friends happy? Given their involvement and amount of damage in the state-owned enterprises such as SAA and Eskom, which moved under the umbrella of the Treasury since 2014, I now have to wonder how much Nene did tacitly allow to happen for political prudence, while fighting it out on the surface with people such as Dudu Myeni.
Recently there was a New York Times opinion piece in which some public servants in the Donald Trump presidency talked about their behind-the-scenes roles in keeping the country safe from the worst traits of their president. Are these men and women heroes, or cowards? I am with the latter on this, for to be brave would be to resign en masse and expose the malfeasance in the White House.
In the case of Nene, I was sure he chose the braver option, but now that he has lied about the extent of his relations with his former master’s most nefarious friends, he acted as cowardly as the “heroes” in the White House.
When we eventually close the chapter of the Zuma years, Nene’s public life will have to be a casualty if a New Dawn is to ever emerge.
He acted as cowardly as the ‘heroes’ in the White House
Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, seen here at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, has issued a written apology for not coming clean about his meetings with the Gupta family. He told the commission he had met the Guptas several times at their business premises in Midrand and their Saxonwold home.