Opinionista Mbuyiseni Ndlozi 5 April 2017

Dispelling some myths of the Cabinet reshuffle

The shifting of the control of Treasury from the business elite moves the strategic decision-making powers from the hands of a tainted collective called the ANC to a single family – the Guptas. This is the devastating reality of what Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle means.

There are indeed many ways to comprehend and critique the Cabinet reshuffle that Zuma effected just after midnight on Friday. These range from its economic impact, which of course has started to unfold following South Africa’s down grade into “junk status” by rating agencies, to the political embarrassment of Cabinet members like Ramaphosa openly rejecting the reshuffle.

In this piece, I want to deconstruct three myths that have come to be associated with those who defend the reshuffle. They have to do with the political justification of the reshuffle which relies on popular concepts and ideas yet masquerading a reactionary agenda. They therefore have to be debunked as they represent a conceptual and theoretical threat to the vocabulary of the African socialist revolution.

Noteworthy, effectiveness of progressive concepts lies in that they help sharpen contradictions. This allows battle lines to be drawn in the struggle for the unity of progressive forces to be forged in favour of real progress to be made against oppressors. However, at times, in historical epochs when things are about to fall apart against oppressors, in order to reorganise themselves, oppressors steal popular concepts and ideas from the poor and their movements in an attempt to remain relevant or hide dangerous reactionary agendas. It is therefore the duty of revolutionary intellectual labour to work against the capture of popular concepts and ideas by reactionary forces.

First: The Anti-White Monopoly Capital Myth

The first myth has to do with the idea that the Cabinet reshuffle is an anti-white monopoly capital move. Here, we are made to believe that Gigaba represents a progressive black conscious replacement that will see decisive decisions taken against white monopoly capital in favour of a radical economic agenda and black people. However, right after being appointed Minister of Finance, in his very first press conference, Gigaga indicated that his appointment does not mean there will be any policy changes. He took the platform and said;

I intend to implement the policies of the ANC as articulated in conference resolutions, in the 2014 election manifesto, as well as in the president’s announcements especially the State of the Nation Address”.

This assurance is similar to the first press conference that Zuma held after being supported by “Left” forces in the ANC (Cosatu and SACP) presidential contest against Thabo Mbeki. Even before the 2007 Polokwane conference was concluded, Zuma told journalists that there will be no policy changes and that investors needed not to worry or interpret his election as a change in ANC policy. They represent business as usual.

The policies of the ANC as articulated in conference resolutions and in the SONA have no radical economic demands like nationalisation, free higher education or expropriation of land without compensation.

Macroeconomic policy of the ANC anchors, as its point of departure, the attraction of investors at any cost, including to the interest of black people. In addition, our fiscal framework at the moment is also servicing a debt at 10.5% per annum. The combination of these two aspects means any ANC finance minister has to please investors (foreign and domestic), otherwise they do not guarantee what is essential to the policy function and perspective of the ANC. Anything else would signify a departure from the very essence of ANC policy.

This means Gigaba cannot tamper with mines or the banks (white-monopoly capital) and transfer these into the hands of the people. He is there to get taxpayers’ money to fund the business activities of Zuma’s business partners – the Gupta family. He is there to ensure that the contracts South Africa’s government enters into are those that will benefit the corrupt personal business interests of Zuma. More important, Gigaba is there to oil the wheels of Nkosanzana Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential ambitions aimed at perpetrating the prevailing kleptocracy.

This is not an anti-white monopoly capital move, rather it is a kleptocratic and corrupt agenda that is trying to co-exist with the equally corrupt white monopoly capitalism.

Second: The Guptas are black myth

The second myth is that the Gupta businesses represent black progress and thus, they must be supported. The advocates of this argument are often not shy to admit that Gigaba’s appointment is indeed a shift of Treasury into the hands of the Guptas. They argue that for the first time it has left the hands of white monopoly capitalism.

Well, first, the most fundamental contribution of both Fanon and Biko to radical black thought was precisely to help us understand that blackness was not a matter of pigmentation. That just because something is black, it does not make it progressive – there is no essential relationship between black and progressiveness.

Therefore, the real question is not so much if the Guptas are black, rather it is if they represent a black progressive agenda. The answer is a definite no. If you agree that macroeconomic policies of the ANC cannot conceivably lead to the radical transformation of the conditions of poor black people, any black business that partners with the ANC for change does so in the name of neoliberal policies that have only ever benefited few people; white monopoly and the predatory BEE elite.

A generous appraisal of the past 22 years of economic policy performance under the ANC is that it has benefited white monopoly capital and made a few politically connected blacks rich. These were always politically connected families of struggle stalwarts or with links to them, but not the black working class in general.

A class analysis always helps us to locate a progressive tenet to black politics. If black politics do not lead to the total economic emancipation of the black working class and the poor from the shackles of capitalist greed, they are not progressive from a black conscious perspective.

This leads us to the heart of the matter and the real reason why the ANC is actually in crisis. The truth is that until now, it is the ANC BEE elite that has been in charge of Treasury and this is due to ANC policy itself since the days of Mandela. Trevor Manuel, Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan represented the black ANC BEE elite interests, following their pact with white monopoly capital about how transformation would occur in post-apartheid South Africa. This business elite was created by ANC policies though a transformation doctrine and practice of “black ownership share of white owned and established industries” encapsulated in BEE.

But this elite group knew that it is beholden to the ANC and indeed many of them also sit in ANC structures, including the NEC where they execute their class mandate. Therefore, the present shifting of the control of Treasury from this business elite moves the strategic decision-making powers from the hands of a tainted collective called the ANC to a single family – the Guptas. This is the devastating reality of what Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle means. It is more dangerous, more catastrophic and quite frankly embarrassing to the titanic liberation movement that from now on, Treasury decisions will be made by a single, non-ANC family which was never there in the Struggle, just because this family funds an individual called Zuma who holds shares in that family’s business by using his young son as a proxy.

This has nothing to do with anti-white-monopoly capital! It is power moving from supposed ANC hands to one single family called the Guptas. This is why Mantashe says they think the Cabinet reshuffle list came from elsewhere and was simply announced to them, as opposed to being consulted. Mantashe’s rantings are motivated by the realisation that the strategic centre of power has moved from Luthuli House to the Saxonwold compound.

Third: The Qualifications Myth

The third myth has to do with the personal qualifications of a Finance Minister. Many people think Gordhan and Nene did not have previous experiences with Treasury. This is not true; both served in Treasury-linked entities like SARS as commissioners or in some other capacity before being appointed to head the ministry. Therefore, Gigaba can at best be compared only to Trevor Manuel.

It is indeed true that Manuel did not have any experience with Treasury when he was appointed; in fact, he moved from being Minister of Trade and Industry directly to run Treasury in the middle of Mandela’s term of office in 1996. The reality is that no one in the ANC in 1994 had any experience with Treasury precisely because the pre-1994 government was a racist white minority government. Therefore, no one in 1994 expected the ANC to have anyone with such experience. So Manuel has a defence. Furthermore, Manuel and the likes of Mboweni started the ANC’s economic policy department shortly after the ANC’s unbanning.

So, what does Gigaba’s sudden appointment represent? For Mandela, he had appointed the CEO of Nedbank, Chris Liebenberg, as finance minister, who actually belonged to no political party. This was in line with the ANC’s newfound policy of appeasing domestic and foreign investors even if it was at the expense of much needed transformation. The reality is that Mandela needed a political head to the ministry, not just a person with technical know-how. Thus, in 1996, Manuel was given the post.

What then is the reason, 23 years after governing the country, that persuaded Zuma to make a similar move with Gigaba? There is a wealth of cadres who have interacted with financial institutions that could have been considered; for instance, Tito Mboweni, who is also a member of the ANC NEC and who presented the first ever ANC economic policy document at the organisation’s first policy conference held in Johannesburg in 1992. Even with that political pedigree and arguably successful 10-year stint as Reserve Bank Governor, he was not even fit to be deputy finance minister in Zuma’s factional eyes. This means the under-qualification of the new finance minister in this case has nothing to do with the challenge that no black person, or black activists, had any interaction with Treasury or governance of financial institutions such that Zuma did not have a choice but to go with Gigaba.

Why then would Zuma go for an under-qualified individual with no experience with Treasury or its linked institutions like SARS as if he were Mandela standing between white racist minority government officials and new democratic government activists with no governance experience of anything?

The reality is that Zuma was not looking for a qualified person. He was precisely on a manhunt for an unqualified person. This is why in December 2015, Zuma appointed Van Rooyen, out of the blue and without any valid explanation, after firing Nhlanhla Nene. What Van Rooyen represented is a person who did not qualify to get their post and as a result they can always be manipulated using the very fact of their under-qualification and that they did not deserve to be in it. Just like Bathabile Dlamini. Just like Faith Muthambi. Just like Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Just like Jacob Zuma.

Of course it is possible for Gigaba to learn how Treasury works and how to run a financial institution even if he has no skill or any background in finance, like Manuel did from 1996. But political conditions for his appointment into this position are not the same as those that faced Mandela when having to appoint Trevor Manuel. There are well qualified individuals in and outside the ANC NEC if indeed Zuma could no longer work with Jonas and Gordhan.

And if the argument is that of all those who are qualified, in and outside the ANC NEC, would not pursue radical economic policies, we already know for certain that Gigaba’s appointment does not represent any policy shift or a different policy perspective to the one Gordhan was pursuing.

There is therefore only one explanation, just like it was the case with the removal of Nhlanhla Nene – Zuma needed a Gupta man. In fact, what is worse is that he is surrounding himself altogether with yes men and women, very junior comrades in senior government positions who because of his political seniority will never challenge him when he does wrong.

The true policy that Zuma wants implemented is corruption, not an anti-white monopoly capital policy in favour of the black working class and the poor. To do this, he needed an under-qualified and incompetent, but social media famous certified fellow like Gigaba.

Conclusion

The solution to this debacle is the total removal of the ANC from power. The ANC has been warned over many occasions that it has lost control of Zuma and they did nothing to stop that. Instead, they protected and praised him, making him believe all the time that he is indispensable. What is worse is that for them it always takes one of their own losing a job in Cabinet to see them act. Zuma violated the Constitution in an act of corruption in Nkandla; this did not anger them enough to seek his removal.

I will not be surprised that when the NWC concludes, they will also take “collective responsibility”, choosing the unity of the ANC over the economic stability of the country. As the EFF has repeatedly warned, if the ANC fails to remove Zuma, the only option left for him is that of other tyrants and dictators, namely to start killing dissenting cadres as well as other political opponents. DM

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