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The Merchant of Venice – From Russia with love


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

This past week has left most of us somewhat puzzled. Zuma’s sudden almost schizophrenic decision that a Cabinet reshuffle must happen NOW has had us all asking: Has he lost it? Has he indeed gone bonkers? Or is there more to this than meets the eye? Perhaps there is a more sinister, dark reason that compelled the President to act in the manner he did?

In comes Shylock, now in this very apt Shakespearean play.

Bassanio, a young Venetian of noble rank, wishes to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia of Belmont. Having squandered his estate, he needs 3,000 ducats to subsidise his expenditures as a suitor. Bassanio approaches his friend Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice who has previously and repeatedly bailed him out. Antonio agrees, but since he is cash-poor – his ships and merchandise are busy at sea – he promises to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan’s guarantor.

Shylock is at first reluctant to grant the loan, citing abuse he has suffered at Antonio’s hand. He finally agrees to lend the sum to Bassanio without interest on one condition: if Bassanio is unable to repay it at the specified date, Shylock may take a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

And so, our own Zuma, who desperately wants to implement the nuclear power plant programme but does not have the ducats he requires, makes a deal with the devil, Shylock, the Russians. And the Russians said, I will sweeten the deal for you but when the time comes and you are unable to repay it at the specified time, Shylock may take a pound of Zuma’s flesh.

Why Zuma made this pact is still unknown but one can safely assume it was to cement the wealth creation spoils for the Zuma dynasty. And in the public gallery the Russians doth protest their innocence:

Hath not a Jew eyes?

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

If you tickle us, do we not laugh?

If you poison us, do we not die?

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

For our Russian economy is also in dire straits and in need of a nuclear build programme of the magnitude you South Africans have in mind. It’s just the kind of capital infrastructure project we need to stimulate our economy.

All Zuma could say was, “The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.” And better he did, the Cabinet reshuffle was both swift and ruthless. Those that got the chop did not even warrant official correspondence of the axing. No such niceties, they simply learned of it like you and me in the daily newspapers, while watching TV or on the relevant social media. A pound of my flesh, I will not likely give up so easily, instead I take charge of the Treasury in order to honour my loan agreement with the Shylock. Phew, and just in time too.

The deed is done, we have a new Cabinet, and the rest as they say “is history”. Oh, no, wait, S&P just downgraded us to junk status. We await Moody’s announcement in the coming days. Then we wait for the meeting of the National Working Committee of the ANC, in which the top six officials will report back as to why they are fighting amongst each other in public. After this we wait for the National Executive Committee meeting. At which they will digest all of the above, and hopefully will give some clear direction to the nation. NOT!

And finally, we are waiting on the National Speaker to check whether she will recall all legislators back to Parliament for an emergency session to entertain yet another “motion of no confidence” by the opposition parties. It’s beginning to look like “cry wolf” if you ask me, and the response might well be that of the villagers in the story of the herd boy continuously crying wolf.

What is to be done?

Around the dinner tables, on couches, in back yards and on street corners, countrywide, all sorts of scenarios are being sketched out. Everyone seems to be an expert, a political analyst, a revolutionary or in some cases a compliant cadre who gets instructions and follows it.

We may as well number a few possible scenarios:

Scenario One: Zuma voluntarily resigns

The ANC Integrity committee meets Zuma as planned and asks him to resign. Last time they did this, he refused.

The less said about this scenario, the better.

This scenario is the most unlikely to succeed. Not gonna happen.

Scenario Two: The ideal for the Opposition Parties

The opposition manages to convince 50 plus 1 ANC members of Parliament to vote with them and carry the motion of no confidence through, forcing the President to resign. This may be possible because if he does not resign, he stands to forfeit all his benefits associated with being the former President. This for those that might not know, means:

  • A continuation of his salary, adjusted according to inflation year on year.
  • The continuation of VIP protection services for life.
  • A private secretary to manage his post presidential affairs, as well as a communications person, to be the official spokesperson but also assist with any book deals (autobiography) you might want to get involved in.
  • An office of specified parameters and location, and
  • All the necessary security upgrades at your chosen homestead where you and your family will be living.

The challenge with this scenario is that if the minority group of the ANC vote in favour of the motion, it does spell the end of the majority of the ANC in Parliament albeit for a brief few days. Which means that the ANC minority will have to continue voting with the opposition to ensure that a president fills the now vacant position.

It is unlikely that the newfound opposition alliance will agree to an ex-ANC candidate as its president. We cannot assume that the opposition is only after Zuma and not gunning to viscerate the ANC. They will not easily agree on who the new president will be. I don’t think for one minute that the EFF will replace their chants of ‘Pay back the money’ with ‘Viva Cyril Viva!’ With Zuma gone, don’t think we will no longer have a circus. The newfound power of the kingmakers will only embolden, not dampen them.

Remember that floor crossing is no longer permitted. So it is therefore quite likely that the ANC NEC would have had an emergency sitting to recall those 50 plus 1 parliamentarians and replace them with more compliant members. With opposition candidate X now appointed as president, we could well have another vote of no confidence (this time tabled by the ANC majority) and using their purged majority to unseat him/her.

The key thing to consider here is that the opposition would have succeeded in getting rid of Zuma, but not his ilk. They would have weakened the ANC going forward. The major question though is whether that is what the ANC minority also want. Do any members of the opposition realise that a weakened ANC party is not in the overall interest of the country?

This scenario is most unlikely to occur.

Scenario Three: The NEC of the ANC grows a conscience

The NEC deliberates on all of the matters over the last few years since Zuma’s re-election in 2014. They come to the inescapable conclusion that the President must be asked to resign and step down as the President of the Republic. They agree that an interim president will have to take charge until the December elective conference of the organisation. If precedent is followed, it may mean that the Deputy President will have to ascend to the top job and many in the ANC NEC do not support this.

A challenge with this scenario is that the ANC has already invoked such a measure when they recalled the former President Mbeki in 2008. What could be seen as a positive move of “the renewed ANC (cleaned up from a corrupt president)” could also be billed as “Look, the ANC cannot elect competent leaders to lead them. They keep on recalling them before their term of office expires.” The opposition could have a field day with this option and no doubt increase their voter numbers towards 2019.

The NEC is comprised of 80 people plus the top six. When Derek Hanekom tabled a vote of no confidence this was not successful. So last time we checked, the majority of the NEC were in the Zuma camp. So unless things have somehow radically changed since then, this scenario is unlikely to occur.

Scenario Four: Fight from within

There is an old Chinese proverb: before setting out on revenge, make sure you dig two graves.

Reactive strategies perpetuate a cycle of revenge.

There comes a time in every cadre’s life when you must decide to either submit or fight.

In this scnnario, all the comrades that are on the receiving end of Zuma’s wrath choose to stay inside their organisation, the ANC. They choose to fight Zuma, the Guptas and the Premier League types.

In this case, “organise, organise, organise” is the clarion call. Organise civil society to continue applying the pressure on government and Parliament. Organise by using our courts effectively. Organise ANC branches and regions to ready themselves for the all-important elective conference in December, so as to elect a more ethical leadership for the movement. Organise the alliance partners to take a more decisive stand against the current tyranny.

The challenge with this scenario is the fact that the anti-Zuma cadres are left with only nine months to actualise such an outcome. In my opinion, not enough time, since the Zuma group had worked on preparations for the conference for years already. The moment Zuma went all out to ensure that the African Union was led by a woman for the first time, he already had a plan in mind as to why he is preparing her and for what task. I fear only something cataclysmic will alter the eventual positive outcome for Zuma.

The losing side then will have to make some significant life-altering choices post the December conference.

For some, the defeat would have been the third time Zuma annihilated them on the ANC battlefield: in 2007 at Polokwane, then in 2012 in Mangaung and now again, in 2017, at Nasrec in Gauteng. They can choose to lick their wounds once again or take a decisive decision that the ANC they know and love is gone forever.

This scenario is hanging in the balance for now. It remains a possibility.

And so we cross our fingers, and some may even pray for a particular scenario to succeed.

The next few months are going to be rough in every sense of the word. What you choose your role to be in this unfolding play will be of utmost importance. Remain the lackeys of the Russian merchant and the Guptas, or determine your own destiny. Almost all thought leaders in our country from various sectors acknowledge that what is required going forward is a social compact between labour, capital and government. The modalities of such a compact are what we should be spending our combined energy on, and not on Zuma and his shenanigans. We need to THINK and think very hard because inevitably it is going to require sacrifices from us all, if we are to succeed in this our Mzansi.

Organise, Organise, Organise!!! DM


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