The course of history can, and may, be changed by a single event. In the case of President Jacob Zuma, that event may be the decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene as South Africa’s Finance Minister on December 9, 2015. By firing Nene, the President unleashed political and economic forces he clearly did not foresee. When he fired Nene, little did he know that he was breathing new life into Pravin Gordhan.
Towards the 2014 general election, there were rumours that the President and Gordhan, his Finance Minister at the time, were not the best of acquaintances. When Gordhan was shunted off to the Local Government portfolio, very few political observers were surprised. I mistakenly argued that his appointment as Local Government Minister was a strategic move, given the parlous state of local government. I said, rather foolishly, that the President had made the right decision because Gordhan is a fixer and problem solver of note.
The appointment turned out to be strategic, but not for the reasons I have alluded to above. The move was, in all probability, strategic to the extent that the President needed to neuter Gordhan because, as Finance Minister, he potentially posed a serious threat to the interests of the President and some of his comrades in . . . well . . . something. So, until Sunday, December 13, 2015, the President was content in the knowledge that he had just appointed the most qualified South African Finance Minister since 1652. More importantly, he no longer had to worry about the ghosts of Budget speeches past because Gordhan had his own problems to deal with. He was being accused of being a rogue who set up a rogue intelligence unit within the South African Revenue Service (Sars). Little did the President know what was about to happen to him.
I have no doubt that Zuma seldom smiles when he thinks about Christmas 2015 because, as we were getting used to the idea that David van Rooyen was not a white man, the President announced, four days after firing Nene, that Gordhan was our new Finance Minister. If the President’s own statements are anything to go by, it is not controversial to aver that Gordhan was forced on him by a combination of economic and political forces and players. Now the two men are squeezing each other’s scrotums. If I may say so, the Finance Minister is squeezing like a highly trained arm wrestler. So, who between the two will blink and cry like a sensitive boy?
But, before I forget, I need to tell you what I think all this scrotum squeezing is about. For me, it is about the following: the criminalisation of our State; the state of the State and its impact on the African National Congress (ANC), and vice versa; policy and political and institutional uncertainty; and Orwellian manipulation.
Let me deal with the last point first. Four days before Gordhan presented his Budget 2016 speech, the Hawks decided to welcome him back to his former portfolio by inviting him to play a round of Trivial Pursuit. They sent him a list of 27 questions, which, directly and indirectly, are about his involvement in the setting up, and the activities, of the ‘rogue unit’. As the tradition of Orwellian manipulation demands, these questions were leaked to the media, ostensibly to advantage the President and tarnish the image of the Finance Minister.
The Minister came out of his corner fighting stronger than the rand. According to Talk Radio 702, he argued during a panel discussion that the decision to fire Nene was an attempted coup on the National Treasury. I do not know what you think, but I suspect he is accusing the President of treason or attempted economic sabotage.
In response to the Hawks, Gordhan intimated that there are people in this country who are enemies of the national interest, economic stability and our people. I am not convinced that the face of the President did not flash past his eyes as he was making this point.
The ANC, the South African Communist Party and others have come out in support of Gordhan as a sign of gratitude for what he has done to stabilise the economy since the last time the President tried to destroy it. In my view, Zuma is becoming increasingly isolated within and outside the ANC. Also, it does not help that there are now reports of a Sars report which alleges all sorts of things nefarious against Zuma and his alleged cronies. According to these reports, the President and his comrades in . . . well . . . something nefarious, are guilty of crimes that may make Radovan Kreijcir look like an ANC chaplain. Is this a battle between two rogues, or has the President been flirting with things treasonously nefarious? Do these people even remember what the ANC was founded for?