British journalist Gavin Bell, in his book Somewhere Over the Rainbow, covered South Africa during the transition to democracy and then returns here in 2001. He wants to find out “what makes this country beloved and why do people cry over it?” What he found then was “a hauntingly beautiful country strangely confused by its multiple identities, struggling to come to terms with itself and swinging between hope and despair”.
Ours is a country over which much weeping has been done. Alan Paton presumably did not arbitrarily assign the title Cry, the Beloved Country to his seminal work.
We find ourselves swinging between hope and despair almost continuously though this week has been particularly testing. We are now firmly in the “will he, won’t he?” moment after President Zuma recalled Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from an investor road show in the UK. At the time of writing it is still unclear why Zuma did this but a Cabinet reshuffle seems on the cards after a flurry of meetings at Luthuli House.
The clumsy move that saw the rand immediately lose value is one that can only be witnessed with despair and frustration. Zuma is doing a very good job of holding the country to ransom as he presumably ponders when to wield his axe against Gordhan, Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and possibly even Treasury Director-General, Lungisa Fuzile.
In Zuma’s world, Gordhan needs to go. Much ink has been spilled on the matter and on what exactly is going on, yet there is a simple answer to all this. It goes like this: Gordhan and the relatively powerful Team Treasury have been doing a sterling job in overseeing South Africa’s macro-economic stability and ensuring that the ratings agency downgrades are kept at bay. Gordhan, his deputy Mcebisi Jonas and the National Treasury stand as a bulwark between South Africa and complete state capture. They have held the line against a maverick and dangerous populism and nepotism within the ANC and from Zuma himself. Gordhan’s stance represents an inconvenience for Zuma and his cronies and (in the eyes of Zuma) he must be replaced. Removing Gordhan or pressuring him to resign would ensure that someone more pliable might be appointed, thus allowing Zuma and his merry band free rein over SOEs and related contracts worth billions.
While this political drama plays itself out, this week has brought collective mourning of a different kind. We are weeping for fallen struggle hero, Ahmed Kathrada, who along with Nelson Mandela was one of the Rivonia trialists and spent 26 years and three months in prison. During that time he obtained four university degrees. It’s quite hard to fathom such commitment to principle and such strength of character. Everything about Kathrada has been said eloquently and his life is a testament to the man he was; principled, gentle and thoughtful. He eschewed the state funeral, setting an example to the very end. His life’s work and example stand in stark contrast to the tawdriness of today’s ANC that has become marked by corruption, “state capture” and a careless disregard for the electorate.
Zuma did not attend Kathrada’s funeral after the family had asked that he not speak there. Kathrada, after all, had been an outspoken critic of Zuma and called for him to resign last year. It saddened him to see the ANC being taken over by what he called “come latelys” and rent-seekers. It would have been entirely inappropriate for Zuma to speak given the damage he is doing to our country and its economy and his careless disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law.
Kgalema Motlanthe, who delivered the eulogy, was most critical of the ANC and went as far as to quote Kathrada’s letter to Zuma and then say, “… 354 days ago today Comrade Kathrada wrote this letter to which a reply has not been forthcoming. As you are aware, his letter went without any formal reply.” At that point one wondered whether Zuma felt the chill of isolation in the Union Buildings? It’s hard to tell.
Here is a president who, after all, is perfectly prepared to risk the country’s future through one reckless act simply to save himself and his corrupt cronies. But this is who Zuma is and so we should not be surprised. His time in office has given us plenty of insight into his character. He has undermined democratic institutions and abused state resources for private gain. He has become a one-man wrecking ball and many in the ANC have stood passively by while the party itself has been dragged further into the abyss, and the country along with it.
The send-off for Kathrada was beautiful and appropriate. It will be remembered for Motlanthe’s charged eulogy but especially for Gordhan being affirmed with rousing applause as he was asked to stand. In a poignant moment as Gordhan stood, he wiped away a tear. Gordhan is a decent man seeking to survive attempts by a rogue president to drive him out of his position. At that moment it felt like he was weeping for us all; for what we have lost as another Rivonia trialist passes on, for where we might have been had we followed the ethical examples of those ANC stalwarts and for the difficult place we find ourselves in now.
“Cry the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.” DM