Business leaders are often criticised for their apathy towards political Black Swans. These systemic shocks occur out of the blue and tend to have immediate and significant repercussions.
President Jacob Zuma is fond of staging such events, typically throwing everyone off course while driving our neurotic currency rapidly towards the cliff. When Zuma sacked former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, business leaders were rumoured to have persuaded the ANC to get the message through to him that his actions were damaging for the country.
Clearly the lobbying that took place hit the mark because Nene’s replacement, Des van Rooyen, lasted all of four days, making way – and this was Zuma’s choice – for incumbent Pravin Gordhan.
Together with the finance minister, business titans and labour representatives set about fixing the reputational fallout with a global road show aimed at calming twitchy investors and ratings agencies. That exercise, too, had the desired effect.
The country staved off a debt downgrade, albeit with caveats to stick to a prudent economic path.
That endeavour was working out reasonably well until this week’s bombshell that the Hawks had summoned Gordhan and former tax bosses to their offices, reviving old antipathies.
Business Leadership South Africa, no doubt with a sense of foreboding, hammered out an open letter to Zuma, all but suggesting he call off his goon squad and put “an end to the harassment, intimidation and undermining of the leadership of our most important economic governance institutions”.
It was a very public tactic – backed by notable business heavyweights. Their display was also a clear message of support for Gordhan and a warning to Zuma that the days of diplomacy are over.
Indeed, Gordhan has a fight on his hands. But the muscle now in his corner is really starting to flex.