President Jacob Zuma did the unthinkable on Wednesday when he fired and removed Nhlanhla Nene as democratic South Africa’s fourth Finance Minister. We were fortunate that we had people like Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan and (now) Nhlanhla Nene leading the Finance portfolio, and making sure that Treasury always remained above reproach.
The illusion of the sanctity of protecting Treasury all came tumbling down at the hands of Zuma. We now have the rise of “a nobody” to one of the most powerful and important portfolios in South Africa– a backbencher named David Des van Rooyen. This is how far we have fallen. Since the rise of Number 1, we have seen Cabinet reshuffled on six occasions, and at no point has he been willing to play open cards and give us reasons. When Mac Maharaj was Zuma’s spin-doctor, they did not deem it necessary to explain either. At the time, Maharaj was happy to issue a statement that: “The Presidency wishes to remind the opinion-makers that the President of the Republic uses his prerogative when appointing members to the National Executive. He does not need to provide reasons”.
The view among the “opinion makers” are that Nene was an obstacle to the Zuma agenda. Nene was not an obstacle to the greater South African agenda, but rather he had become a thorn to the nuclear-build programme, which is shrouded in secrecy, to the shenanigans and madness that has unfolded at the SABC and more importantly at South African Airways. Nene was about to release details of the new SAA board, but we have been deprived of seeing whether Dudu Myeni had finally been dealt with. Instead, we had to bear the burden of David Des van Rooyen, and the instability to our currency and markets. We would have hoped on Thursday to hear dissenting voices from Zuma’s Cabinet and leaders of government, but instead we have received the usual silence and dismissive approach.
I know all too well that not much is going to change. I do not expect Zuma to feel obliged to explain his thinking or decision-making. I also do not expect any of his Cabinet colleagues to speak publically about this decision, nor do I expect a string of resignations. When former President Thabo Mbeki was recalled by the ANC, an oddity in itself, we had people like Trevor Manuel and Jabu Moleketi tender their resignations. What is clear today is that not only is 2008 a very long time ago, but principles do not seem to be as important as they once were.
Yet, we continue, we endure. The lights remain on, in most parts of the country. The taps, despite the worst drought in decades, continue to flow and many South Africans continue, despite Zuma’s decision to sacrifice principle, common-sense and stability for his own blend of chaos. Many South Africans who are employed continue to arrive at work and many of them are civil servants who are burdened by having Zuma at the helm. Perhaps, this would explain why so many South Africans remain conflicted despite all the bad thongs. Somehow the everyday demands remain unshifting. We have survived the treachery, the scandals and the chaos that has plagued South Africa as a result of the all-consuming, self-indulgent and often criminal activity of Zuma and, importantly, by all the other people like him.
The bad decisions and the rot started before Zuma, and are only now coming how to roost. The installation of a flawed man into the highest office was bound to be disastrous, but we are only appreciating that today. Our collective, and often selective amnesia, may prevent us from remembering all of it, but the decisions leading up to Wednesday this week are not isolated or easily distinguishable. The immediate consequences may be dire, but what is really at stake is our future. Zuma has destroyed any semblance that there were holy cows in South Africa. Zuma has destroyed any shred of hope that we may have left that despite all the chaos and indecision that we would be spared the dignity of having institutions that functioned well, despite his Presidency of chaos and destruction.
Pragmatism and the opportunity for the ANC and leaders in South Africa to take hold of this situation and deal with Zuma decisively has been vastly diminished. We can no longer wait for someone to neutralise the most polarising and destructive leader, but rather we need to get off our laurels and do something profound. The effects of decisions made by Zuma will have long-ranging and devastating consequences for our country and it will be very difficult to curtail not only the run on the Rand, but also a run and eventual depletion on South Africa’s resilience. We may endure, we may carry on and struggle to survive, but at some point the edifice that is our fragile democracy will come crashing down if we are not careful.
The looming recession, a loss in confidence and a general pessimistic viewpoint on our country will not be an easy task to tackle nor will the balancing act that is required in next year’s Budget Vote. However, Mr van Rooyen, the former Mayor and ANC backbencher, or as I prefer to call him “the nobody”, does not seem up to the task, but sadly our Cabinet has confirmed that none of them are up to the task nor can they reign in the chaos that is Jacob Zuma. DM