Opinionista Mbuyiseni Ndlozi 10 April 2017

Dispelling the final myth: BRICS and imperialism

In the last piece I wrote attempting to dispel some of the myths used to defend the Zuma Cabinet reshuffle, I argued that 'it is the duty of revolutionary intellectual labour to work against the capture of popular concepts and ideas by reactionary forces'. In this piece I will deal with one final myth used by those who defend Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle. I had left it out in the previous article because of space.

This is about the idea that the BRICS (Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa) countries are under siege from Western powers for putting up a fight against Euro-American led global capitalism – a.k.a white monopoly capitalism. It is said that Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas were removed from Cabinet because they are representatives of Euro-American imperialist capital seeking the destruction of the BRICS initiative. In addition, that National Treasury under their leadership is a stumbling block to “radical economic transformation”.

The story of BRICS

In the narrative tropes of this myth, Brazil’s popular protests that led to the impeachment and ultimate removal of President Dilma Rousseff from office were the creation of Euro-American imperialist capital seeking to destroy the emerging south-south co-operation outside traditional Bretton Woods Institutions i.e. World Bank and International Monetary Funds. Co-operation which led to the BRICS initiative. In the same way, the South African popular  protests, demanding the impeachment or removal of Zuma, are also a creation of Euro-American capitalist imperialism trying to destroy the BRICS initiative.

BRICS through financial co-operation and creation of financial institutions like the BRICS Bank i.e. New Development Bank, seeks to create an alternative to Euro-American Bretton Woods Institutions. This allows the world to break the monopoly, control and domination of world debt by Euro-American powers who enforce structural adjustment programmes disguised as terms of lending money to developing countries. 

With the BRICS’ New Development Bank, developing countries will be able to secure alternative credit paths for currency stability, and in times of a balance of payment crisis with a favourable repayment programme and contribution towards lasting infrastructure development orientated spending. 

The destabilisation of Brazil and South Africa will thus be followed by the same in India, China and Russia, maybe even war with the last two. All in an attempt, by Western powers, to destroy the rise of the alternative global power of BRICS which will compete with the World Bank.

Let us say for a moment that all this is indeed true; that Euro-American imperialist capital is working on the destabilisation of BRICS countries so that they can continue to financially depend on the West. To say the same with the South African case, you need to prove that Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas worked against the interests of South Africa in the building and consolidation of BRICS financial institutions which they were directly responsible for. If so, this means they are agents of Western imperialism, or as the so-called “intelligence report” of Zuma suggests, that they were working to destabilise the economy of our country. Thus, Zuma was right to remove them from Cabinet. 

The Brazilian Analogy

In Brazil, the demand for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff was in relation to the biggest corruption scandal in Brazilian history. Here, a semi-state-owned petroleum company called Petrobras was used by a number of top officials who colluded with an organised cartel of 16 companies to overcharge Petrobras for construction and service work in return for bribes and kickbacks. The cost of the entire corruption was estimated at a shocking $22-billion. The result was millions of ordinary Brazilians taking to the streets in popular protests and demanding the impeachment of Rousseff. The Brazilian Senate (the equivalent of Parliament in our case) held impeachment hearings against Rousseff, and after thorough investigations, they removed her from office. 

Let us forget the Nkandla scandal, which directly involved Zuma and contractors who overcharged the government for the undue benefits of construction of his private home. This only led to limited protests by 25 MPs of the EFF without any accompanying millions of popular support on the streets. 

Following this, the EFF took to the streets as it approached the Constitutional Court to force Zuma to pay back the money that was unduly spent in Nkandla. The Constitutional Court not only ruled in favour of #PayBackTheMoney, but it also ruled that Zuma violated his oath of office. Still, there were no popular protests across the country in demand of Zuma’s resignation. 

In addition, EFF and other political parties took to the streets and to the North Gauteng High Court to force the release of the Public Protector Report which made serious allegations that there is indeed a corrupt relationship between Zuma and the Gupta family. Here, still, these protests were limited to political parties; South Africa did not see millions or even hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets and demands Zuma’s removal. So, it was only when Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet that our streets saw hundreds of thousands of people demanding the removal of Zuma from office. 

Mcebisi Jonas revealed that the removal of Nene was linked to the Guptas’ attempt to take over Treasury… he says they had offered him the post of finance minister first before giving it to Des van Rooyen. We know for a fact that Nene had resisted a nuclear deal costing the country over R3-trillion (twice the country’s annual budget).

However, it is the recent removal of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister by Zuma (his own making) that led to the popular protests which have now come to be known as the #AntiZumaProtests. Those who defend Zuma’s decision say Gordhan is an agent of the West in a broader campaign to destabilise BRICS countries. 

But wait, let us share a quick history: 

Pravin Gordhan was appointed Minister of Finance in 2009. In his 2010 Budget speech (February) Gordhan acknowledge that Brazil, India, China and a host of other middle-income countries are actively taking steps to improve their competitiveness, raise their skills levels, and invest in infrastructure. He emphasised that South Africa must not be left behind. In 2010, Gordhan was part of a bilateral engagement upon an invitation for South Africa to join the BRICs. In his 2011 Budget Speech Gordhan had this to say,

Up until the turn of the century, developing countries accounted for about 20 percent of global output. This will increase to 40 percent by about 2015. Developing economies in Africa, Latin America and South Asia will play an increasingly important role in the global economy in coming years as incomes rise and poverty falls.

South Africa’s invitation to join the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China ) economies reflects this broadening of the sources of economic growth. Over the next five years, these economies will account for 36 percent of world economic growth. We have to construct our own growth and development strategies to propel our economy forward, create jobs and compete on the global stage.”

He was well aware of the dynamics at play when South Africa was included at the BRICS and not at any point was there a sign of undermining BRICS initiatives. 

In his Minister’s statement on policy and commitment of 2012 annual report, Gordhan said:

Although times are tough, we (South Africa) have opportunities available to us. These include opportunities arising from the improved economic performance in most of the African continent and the shifting dynamics in the global economy, especially the rise of fellow BRICS nations as major contributors to global economic growth.”

In 2012 under the leadership of Gordhan, National Treasury was part of a delegation that participated in the 4th BRICS Summit and provided objectives for South Africa to pursue during the summit. It was Gordhan who co-ordinated with Development Bank of South Africa to organise meetings of stakeholders to draft the BRICS economic strategy which would provide the country’s economic objectives in the BRICS.

In his 2013 Budget speech, Gordhan announced that, 

Next month, we (South Africa) will host the 5th annual BRICS Summit, which brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The Summit will unveil the work we have been doing with out BRICS partners on the following projects:

1. The possible establishment of a BRICS-led bank is intended to mobilise domestics savings and co-fund infrastructure in developing regions;

2. The pooling of members’ foreign exchange reserves with the view of using them to support each other at times of balance of payments or currency crisis. Collectively, BRICS countries hold reserves totaling 4.5 trillion USD.

These were projects that Gordhan was working on as a minister before he was moved to CoGTA in May 2014. However, most of this BRICS work continued with Nhlanhla Nene who was his deputy and who had also fully participated in BRICS initiatives. By the time Gordhan came back to Treasury in December 2015 after the “Nene Saga”, most of the BRICS work had been done, including making payment to the BRICS bank.

Let us also recall that Zuma’s reason for removing Nhlanhla Nene from office was a “strategic deployment” later to be revealed as Head of BRICS Bank. Zuma was quoted by EWN to have said: “… urgency of the changes in the leadership of the National Treasury” was because nominations needed to be sent to Shanghai in terms of the head of the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank/BRICS Bank, which will be based in Johanesburg… Mr Nene is our candidate for this position. We are fully backing his candidature, knowing full well that he will excel and make the nation proud in his next assignment.”

Even in Parliament Questions for Written Reply, Zuma said:

I have publicly stated on several occasions that South Africa nominated Mr Nhlanhla Nene for the position of head of the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS Bank. Processes to make an appointment to that position are under way under the aegis of the New Development Bank in Shanghai, China.”

Surely you would not deploy a person to BRICS that you think is part of a ploy to undermine the very BRICS efforts. Eventually, the BRICS Bank officially opened in China on 27 February 2016. The National Treasury announced this as it marked the completion of legal procedures that will now allow the bank to begin its operation. During his 2016 (first Budget speech since his reappointment) Gordhan announced that the New Development Bank will open its Africa Regional Centre in Johannesburg in March.

What does this all mean? The processes of BRICS are actually the hard work of the ANC BEE elite which has been in the pipeline. In fact, Gordhan has been a key mind and resource in establishing South Africa’s participation in BRICS. So, it is simply not comprehensible how those who defend Zuma’s removal of Gordhan can say Gordhan was working on the destruction of BRICS.

What is worse is that the new under-qualified Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba goes everywhere telling international institutions, the media and the country that he is continuing with the policies that Gordhan, Nene and Manuel worked on. In fact, in his first press conference as Finance Minister, Gigaba even consciously excluded Van Rooyen in the lineage of what he calls “ANC Finance Minister”, “deployed by the ANC”. He says:

I am keenly aware of the sterling leadership of this portfolio by all of the previous ANC ministers of finance. Comrades Trevor Manuel, Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan. These comrades, deployed by the ANC and working with society at large, helped stabilise the growth of the South African economy having inherited a bankrupt treasury from the apartheid government. I hope to continue the sound leadership and stewardship of the country’s finances which these comrades have displayed. 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.”

What is our equation now:

  1. There are no policy shifts intended with Gigaba’s appointment,
  2. Nene and Gordhan are the ones who worked to establish South Africa’s inclusion into BRICS and the consolidation of BRICS financial institutions

It cannot be that Gigaba’s appointment was about stopping finance ministers who were destroying the establishment of BRICS institutions. In fact, Nene and Gordhan were key to the consolidation of BRICS institutions. Neither is Gigaba going to implement radical economic policies like “free higher education”, “nationalisation of mines, banks and other monopoly industries”.

Therefore, it is a MYTH that the reason why Zuma removed Gordhan has something to do with resisting Euro-American imperialism. In fact, if the West is working on the destabilisation of our country (South Africa) in the same way we saw in Brazil in that people take to the streets to remove a president, it is not Gordhan that is aiding them. The agent of the destabilisation of the country is Zuma himself. He is the one who has caused our streets to fill up in demand of his removal by removing people who were working hard to establish and consolidate BRICS and its alternative financial institutions.

Conclusion

The Constitutional Court ruling that Zuma violated the Constitution, including the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, never saw the type of popular street presence we witnessed on Friday the 7th of April. It was Zuma’s removal of Pravin Gordhan, replacing him with Malusi Gigaba, that sparked the popular protests. Why? Not because of resistance to imperialism. The real reason why Gigaba is Finance Minister is because Zuma wants access to Treasury for his personal interests and those of his business partners, the Gupta family! In this corrupt desire to use Treasury money for his benefit, Nene, Gordhan and Mcebisi were obstacles, and Gigaba is a full-on puppet who will do as the Guptas say.

The EFF has thus chosen to be on the side of the people. We will march against kleptocracy and corruption, demanding to remove Zuma from office. This removal is also underpinned by the fact that Zuma violated the Constitution to secure corruption in Nkandla; this means, as an individual, he is willing to do everything in his power to secure his personal interests, much to the detriment of the country and its people. He Must Fall! DM

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