Nwabisa Makunga: Bumpy road ahead for SA

NwabisaMakungaAs I write this, President Jacob Zuma is meeting the ANC’s national working committee. I wouldn’t hold my breath for anything life-changing to come of it.

For what it’s worth and as far as meetings go, this one particularly is of course interesting.

It follows last week’s cabinet reshuffle – a prerogative the president has exercised 11 times since he first took office in 2009.

Although largely anticipated, the latest shakeup of the executive in the dead of night on Thursday was always going to spark outrage.

True or not, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and deputy Mcebisi Jonas were largely seen as gatekeepers to what many believe is an intended raid on our public purse by Zuma, his friends and family.

The firing of the two therefore predictably ushered in a period of heightened political – and to an extent economic – turmoil.

This public anxiety appears not so much to be about the capabilities of Gordhan’s successor as it is overwhelmingly about the president’s intentions.

Granted, new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s performance in government is debatable.

Yet solely based on his track record in previous portfolios, he is seen by some as a more palatable choice than the Des van Rooyens of that cabinet.

The issue therefore is about what South Africans who disagree with Zuma believe is the president’s purpose with Gigaba.

The prevailing public sentiment – fair or not – is that he was carefully chosen to be a useful enabler of a grand scheme to loot the republic.

Indeed there is no law preventing Gigaba, or even Zuma for that matter, from associating with the Gupta family.

There is, however, a mountain of historic evidence against the Guptas, financial and otherwise, which compels us to question the motive behind any relationship they have with any member of the executive.

It is because of this belief that activist and Ahmed Kathrada’s widow, Barbara Hogan, referred to the reshuffle as “dastardly deed done in dark corners of this country”.

Her statement was bolstered by the ANC’s most senior leaders, including secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who publicly admitted that, unlike before, the party’s officials had no say in the choice of the new ministers and deputies.

According to Mantashe, the list presented to them by Zuma appears to have been drawn up and decided on elsewhere.

Certainly, a lot has happened since Mantashe spoke out.

The campaign to pressure the ANC to get rid of Zuma has predictably gained momentum.

Yesterday, labour federation Cosatu became the latest voice in the tripartite alliance calling for Zuma to go.

A court application to compel parliament to impeach him is under way.

So is yet another attempt for a parliamentary vote of no confidence against him.

While all these processes may be sound mechanisms afforded by our democracy, I remain unconvinced that they will get Zuma out of the Union Buildings.

If anything, it has become increasingly clear that the path ahead of us is to be a long and difficult one.

On Monday night, global rating agency Standard and Poor’s raised the stakes and announced its downgrade of South Africa’s credit outlook to junk status.

Another agency, Moodys, has also placed us on review for a downgrade.

The public response to these, particularly from Zuma defenders, has been to dismiss the rating agencies themselves as discredited institutions with a racist western agenda.

I find this hypocritical.

Just a year ago, when campaigning to retain control of Nelson Mandela Bay, the ANC told anyone who cared to listen how great a job it had done with the metro’s finances that Moodys had upgraded the city’s credit rating.

Second, I found that response to be shortsighted.

Indeed, these agencies are compromised.

They have lied, issued false ratings, gotten it wrong and they are certainly not immune to the political influences of the nations which founded them.

But here’s the thing: it is not our opinion of them that matters.

It is that of the global and even local institutions we want to do business with.

In his book, Africa is Open For Business, author Victor Kgomoeswana writes: “As Africans (and sometimes the US), we tend to find fault with the methodology, question competence of those conducting the tests and try to discredit their findings against us. Why?

“Because there are examples of bias in what are supposed to be objective measures or agencies of objective verification.

“However, Africa can least afford the luxury of ignoring some of the legitimate international agencies purely because there are instances of double standards.”

Simply put, as South Africans we are entitled to believe that these agencies were conceived in the pit of colonial hell, for the sole purpose of oppressing us.

The reality, however, is that those from whom we borrow to build our infrastructure and grow our economy believe what these agencies say about us.

Revolutionary rhetoric aside, Gigaba himself knows this.

Otherwise he would not have rushed to meet with some of the agencies just hours after his appointment.

Nor would he have moved to reassure investors just hours after the downgrade that despite the changes to the cabinet, South Africa’s fiscal policy remains the same.

As things stand, it does not take a crystal ball to see that the road ahead of us is about to get bumpier.

Buckle up.

Nwabisa Makunga is deputy editor of The Herald and Weekend Post.

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