Justice Malala: Heady days now long gone

It is always an occasion. It can be a happy occasion, as the heady days of 4% to 5% economic growth under Trevor Manuel’s stewardship were.

Those were the days! At the time the finance minister, who was then head of the revenue services, would be singled out for praise because his tax haul would always outstrip projections and even the most optimistic of expectations.

What happy days those were! Unemployment was being relentlessly pushed down despite the “no jobs growth” narrative. Economic growth was, well, a beautiful number year after year.

The man looks at himself in the mirror and wonders what tie to wear.

The tie is important. The young whippersnapper Julius Malema, who was once with the ANC, once said the same Manuel had once been advised against wearing a red necktie as this represented socialism.

Everything sends a message. Anything, a cough or a smile or who one stands next to, sends a message.

It is always an occasion. Much as it had once been a happy occasion, it can also be sombre and sad.

Last year, 2016, was sombre and sad and stressful.

Does anyone remember what THAT budget speech was like?

As the media hype and spin piles into overdrive, is anyone even raising their head from the present and reflecting on the past year and its numerous scandals and attempts to get rid of this finance minister?

On Budget Day 2016, as he prepared to put his tie on, this man was considering the ominous letter sent to him by Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza – a man declared by a judge of the high court a liar – just days before this big day.

The letter contained a list of 27 questions that the minister had to answer by March 2 2016, a week after the budget speech, relating to the so-called SARS unit formed while he was heading the organisation.

Those were stressful days. Yet, despite all that, the right thing had been done. The budget was delivered. The trade unions had been supportive and the business community had nodded their heads in agreement. Civil society had been marvelous.

The ratings agencies, circling like vultures around South Africa, had been prudent.

They knew good men and good women were fighting the good fight, so they had stayed their hand and not downgraded the country’s sovereign credit rating.

The goodwill fostered by this tripartite collaboration had continued throughout the year. Good work never stops. Good work had continued throughout the national Treasury and a few other departments.

But it is a naive man or woman who thinks that because good men do great work then the nefarious, the greedy, are at home sewing.

They, too, organise. Key to the works of evil men is that they don’t stop. They work all the time.

And so it was that a pliable national prosecutor, Shaun “The Sheep” Abrahams, announced on October 11 2016 that the minister and two others had been summoned to court on fraud charges relating to an early retirement payout relating to an employee way back in 2010.

No one missed the fact that this was just before the mini-budget.

And so here we are again, says the man, as he reaches for his tie this Wednesday February 22 2017.

He smiles at the mirror as he knots his tie. Are we, my deputy and I, dead men walking?

Are we about to be fired by the man at the top? The same man who appointed us but who constantly speaks an economic and budgetary language that is at odds with the people he appointed?

The signals are ominous. The man who is in the pockets of the notorious Gupta family, Brian Molefe, is being sworn into parliament.

The former health minister and the putative president of the party, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is also about to be sworn in. Others have also been sworn in, in the past. Are they about to play tag and become finance and deputy minister?

No one knows. Certainly the man known as Number One is not saying.

He is as silent as a Buddha. Yet others are talking, and talking keenly. The axe may come down, perhaps as soon as tonight, after the budget speech is delivered, or perhaps later.

There will be others on that walk from office to National Assembly this afternoon. His deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, will be beside him. That’s a man who doesn’t always do up his tie.

Lungisa Fuzile, the director-general, will be there. The new SA Revenue Services chief, Tom Moyane, might not be there. He is on the other side.

The man knows they might not all be here in a few days, weeks, certainly years. But he will walk this path. It is the path of the damned, but he will walk it.