Curiouser and Curiouser it becomes. We all feel a little like Alice in Wonderland these days as we learn one gobsmacking revelation after the other. The time for talk truly is over now. To avert an economic crisis happening on its watch, the ANC will have to do the necessary, find its backbone and rein in Zuma, his cronies and their handlangers
On Thursday, deputy minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas threw down the gauntlet and confirmed he was approached by the Guptas to accept the position of Finance Minister just weeks before Nhlanhla Nene was unceremoniously relieved of his position. Then former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor alleged – on the open forum that Facebook is – that she was offered the Public Enterprises ministry after Barbara Hogan was fired in 2010. The offer to Mentor came from the Guptas and not the president, she says. Zuma was in the next room but now has “no recollection” of this or of her.
Amid this direct challenge, President Zuma comes to Parliament and it is hard to see him batting all this away with his signature laugh. He looks isolated and more ethically compromised than ever, with Gordhan and Jonas taking the distinct high ground. Despite the statement being penned by Jonas it is hard to think that Gordhan would not have sanctioned it. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe issued a warning of a “mafia state” in the wake of the Jonas statement. One might ask whether Mantashe himself has a hand in this latest confirmation by Jonas?
Deputy Minister Jonas and the finance ministry seem to be keen to draw a constitutional line in the sand. In his unprecedented press statement Jonas refers pointedly to the president’s constitutional duty to appoint ministers and their deputies. What Jonas was flagging was a crucial issue: It is that we live in a constitutional democracy and so the president exercises his power to appoint ministers in terms of 91 (2) which states, “The President appoints the Deputy President and Ministers, assigns their powers and functions, and may dismiss them.”
Has the president therefore abdicated that constitutional responsibility to the Guptas and one might ask, for what reason and in whose interests? Many have asked whether this recent revelation could lead to Zuma’s impeachment. That would need a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in terms of s 89(1) of the Constitution. The ANC has the numbers of course although it could well be said that Zuma has committed a “serious violation of the Constitution”.
Equally, a motion of no confidence in the president will need a “majority” of the National Assembly members in terms of s102 (2) of the Constitution. So, where the ANC has the numbers to defend the indefensible, it will need the party itself, outside of parliamentary rules, to deal with the president and the current situation.
The Guptas meanwhile have gone into fighting mode, challenging Jonas to take an oath in court confirming his statement. Some chutzpah they have, clearly accustomed to it after their long history with the president and their brazenness in summoning ministers and their deputies to their Saxonwold compound.
There has been a great deal of talk about “state capture” lately, a term which has been loosely bandied about as we try to understand the influence one powerful family seems to have on our president and body politic. Deputy minister Jonas used the term in his press release too.
Daniel Kaufmann and Joel Hellman, writing for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), talk about it as follows, “In transition economies, corruption has taken on a new image – that of so-called oligarchs manipulating policy formation and even shaping the emerging rules of the game to their own, very substantial advantage.
“Though this form of grand corruption is increasingly being recognised as the most pernicious and intractable problem… we define state capture as the efforts of firms to shape the laws, policies, and regulations of the state to their own advantage by providing illicit private gains to public officials.”
They go on to say that, “Because such firms use their influence to block any policy reforms that might eliminate these advantages, state capture has become not merely a symptom but also a fundamental cause of poor governance. In this view, the capture economy is trapped in a vicious circle in which the policy and institutional reforms necessary to improve governance are undermined by collusion between powerful firms and state officials who reap substantial private gains from the continuation of weak governance.”
Ann Lugon-Moulin, writing separately, says also that, “State capture can be further refined by distinguishing between types of institutions subject to capture (Legislative, Executive, Judiciary, regulatory agencies, public works ministries) and the types of actors actively seeking to capture (large private firms, political leaders, high ranking officials, interest groups).”
Sounds pretty familiar if not as systemic as the requirements for complete capture of the state that would occur where there is a complete absence of the rule of law. This semi-capture of the state in our full view is causing poor governance as tenders are awarded in ways that undermine the rights of citizens and long term decision-making is skewed in favour of the powerful and politically connected. Yet, South Africa with its Constitutional Court and democratic institutions therefore is almost slightly anomalous but these very institutions are under pressure and threat from those individuals who would capture the state – and understandably so because they threaten powerful interests.
And so again, we stand at a crossroads; betwixt and between, watching an intense power struggle play itself out daily. In the meantime, one has to ask who will bring the Hawks to heel in this current environment? Under Mthandazo Ntlemeza, the Hawks are threatening Gordhan to answer their “list of 27 questions”. It is worth repeating that Ntlemeza is the same person the North Gauteng High court found to be unfit to hold his position. In fact, Justice Matonjane called Ntlemeza ‘“biased, dishonest and lacks integrity and honour” and that he made false statements under oath.
One might say that an application to set aside Ntlemeza’s appointment would be appropriate and Cope seems intent on doing so. But really, with Zuma at the helm, this is no country for honest men (and women). Zuma, wounded by his December humiliation when he was forced to do an about-turn on the Van Rooyen appointment, has allowed the damaging uncertainty to continue in his usual style. He has long shown that he places his own interests and those of his cronies ahead of the country’s. What we are experiencing is vintage Zuma – all part of a single narrative which has shown us over and over again that he is unfit to govern.
In the meantime, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte has questions to answer too. Duarte has threatened to submit her phone records after a Sunday paper claimed she was part of the plan to offer Jonas the Finance Minister’s job. Duarte was curiously seen at the Opening of Parliament this year alongside Ivan Pillay, former SARS deputy Commissioner, Robert McBride as well as fired Hawks boss Anwa Dramat as her guests. What could one read into this? Her son-in-law was, after all, one of the “henchmen” at Van Rooyen’s side when he visited the National Treasury after his appointment. A somewhat low-level bank employee, he was tipped to move in and deal with procurement, the allegations go. So some smoke and mirrors is clearly happening.
This power struggle is like none we have seen in post-apartheid South Africa and is frustrating for citizens who have to inevitably endure whatever the fallout will be. And so Gordhan’s position is tricky because quite patently he does not have the support of his boss. A difficult and some might say untenable position for a finance minister to be in even though Gordhan is no shrinking violet. He does have the support of business and Mantashe, with others like Derek Hanekom and Jackson Mthembu also crawling out of the woodwork.
It’s hard to say whether the Jonas statement is a game changer but one wants to put money on commonsense and on Gordhan, because December did not happen in a vacuum. Zuma was substantially weakened then and his patronage is waning, as those close to him look to life “post Zuma” and the ANC’s 2017 elective conference.
This is also a year of local government elections and a poor performance by the ANC will certainly see Zuma’s currency weaken considerably. It is hard to imagine Zuma embarking on an act of immense political boldness (and folly?) to fire Jonas and Gordhan, yet the current stalemate is not an alternative. Gordhan will need to play his cards carefully. He needs to win the war and not be distracted by the battles, hard though that is. State capture is difficult in places where transparency is a key governance principle. Shining light in the dark places will be critical in the next months.
The Guptas have long since been exposed and while the ANC has appeared impassive, the media has been doing its job. When Zuma met with the CEOs of the Top 100 companies, he assured them that the government would act to deliver the necessary economic reforms and that Gordhan had his backing to bring about the economic stability necessary. The CEOs were sceptical because they had heard it all before. The time for talk truly is over now. The ANC will have to do the necessary, find its backbone and rein in Zuma, his cronies and their handlangers to avert an economic crisis happening on its watch. Business and civil society need to add to the pressure too and find their collective voice.
We did not vote to be governed by a band of thieves intent on destroying and pillaging. DM
Judith February is a governance specialist, columnist and lawyer. She is currently based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the WITS School of Governance. She was previously executive director of the HSRCs Democracy and Governance unit and also head of the Idasas South African Governance programme for 12 years.
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