WE either have a president with incompetent advisers who have never heard the expression ‘scenario planning’, or one who refuses to take their counsel.
Alternatively, they’re too scared to look him in the face and put their foot down when he’s about to make another blunder – assuming he discusses his plans with them before he makes his moves. This also assumes that all his advisers are housed within the parameters of the official Presidency, and not remote-controlled from a notorious compound in Saxonworld, Johannesburg.
If the latter is the case, it should explain the repeated disconnect between presidential action and national interest.
It is hard to see things any other way when one looks at recent events in the country. For the second time since the misguided firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015, President Jacob Zuma has been forced to come out dragging his feet to undo an action he has just taken.
First he was forced to retract the strange appointment of an unknown Umkhonto we Sizwe backbencher as the country’s finance minister, a mere four days after he made the appointment.
That appointment resulted in total shock to our currency and markets, wiping off billions of rands in local bonds. Investor confidence took a huge knock and the results continue to manifest themselves in the poor state of the rand and reported quiet departures by some global brands.
Flurry of statements and feeble attempts
The second time is now, when we see a flurry of statements from the Presidency in feeble attempts to assure us that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s job is secure and that the Presidency is right behind him.
This comes after initial statements painted a picture of a president who conveniently preferred to ‘stay out of it’ for fearing to be seen as interfering with the process of law.
Now that the ANC has begun to see the light and unambiguously stand behind the finance minister, each new statement forced out of the Presidency seems to gradually indicate a shift from implied support of the Tom Moyane position to backing Gordhan.
But experience should tell us that it’s too early to start celebrating; Zuma has proven over and over again to be the kind of cat that always lands on its four feet, no matter how high it gets thrown.
It’s still strange, though, because one would have expected everyone, including the Presidency, to agree that the Pravin Gordhan era would be one of rebuilding the credibility of South Africa’s battered reputation, and that all hands would be on deck to reassure South Africans and the markets that we’re open for business, as proclaimed to global business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
If this is not the case, the money spent on the so-called Team South Africa’s trip to Davos would have been another wasteful expenditure.
Political games and brinkmanship
The political games and brinkmanship we’ve been experiencing since last week are not encouraging signs. It is clear, as Gordhan says, that there are still people who either do not get it or who simply do not care what happens to our economy.
A great deal is at stake: the daggers are drawn and anyone who stands in their way is not guaranteed survival. But we would either be naïve or in serious denial to pretend we did not see it coming. The signs were there even before the momentous firing of Nene. What we’re experiencing today has been part of a growing crescendo for a while and, sadly, we’re still in the early first half of it; much more is yet to come.
It is a crescendo replete with the vicious and desperate greed to take and keep taking. It reminds me of a Congolese friend who once said that when you get called to public office in Africa, you have to take as much as possible and, like ants, hide it away until the inevitable time when you’ll be pushed out to make room for others.
My friend may have been making reference to the era of Mobutu Sese Seko, when he grew up under the protection of his wealthy, politically connected father, but one only needs to cast one’s eyes across the continent to see that not much has changed. In a strange way, history keeps repeating itself.
Stopping the advance of toxic tentacles
Rightly, Gordhan is out to torpedo the continued capture of crucial state institutions by rogue forces. Reportedly coagulated right at the apex of political power in South Africa, such forces are said to have succeeded in seizing a number of key institutions, but it will require more than one man and his team to stop the further advance of their toxic tentacles.
The unfortunate Gordhan was thrown in the middle of an ugly orgy of rampant theft, political dishonesty, and brazen disregard for the rule of law. His untimely arrival on the scene may have stopped the perpetrators for only for a little while before they recover from the shock and continue their destruction unabated.
If things keep going this way, it will only be a matter of time before we all wake up in the middle of Bulawayo.