20/20 vision for the kingdom of the blind.
24 October 2017 11:23 (South Africa)
Opinionista Judith February

South Africans at sea, waiting for a rescue mission

  • Judith February
    Judith-February.jpg
    Judith February

    Judith February is a governance specialist, columnist and lawyer. She  was previously executive director of the HSRC’s Democracy and Governance unit and also head of the Idasa’s South African Governance programme for 12 years.

Last week 68 people were rescued as a ferry transporting passengers from Robben Island sank. Images show the ever-reliable National Sea Rescue Institute carrying passengers off the sinking ferry. It seemed a motif of sorts for the beloved country, sinking under the weight of state capture and flailing in the face of the absence of leadership. Like passengers on the sinking ferry, we seem to be waiting for a rescue mission.

We have become almost inured to the daily diet of #GuptaLeaks emails which show the undue influence the President’s friends, the Guptas, as well as his other associates, have on the actual workings of the state. Aside from the steady drip-drip of emails, this past week saw the outspoken ANC MP Makhosi Khoza resign from the ANC. Khoza believes the ANC cannot self-correct and announced that she was done with the “alien and corrupt” organisation it had become. “Alien”. Interestingly, it was the word former Mbeki policy tsar Joel Netshitenzhe used in a brief conversation on a rainy and miserable day outside the marquee at the ANC conference in Polokwane in 2007. He was describing the rout being suffered by Mbeki inside the big tent as the ANC and its alliance partners orchestrated his demise. That seems like a lifetime ago but we are reaping the whirlwind of those heady days.

We now do not need to ask whether Zuma is fit for office. We see him and we know that he is not.

In the same week as Khoza resigned from the ANC, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was being sworn in as an MP. One word came to mind as she parachuted her way into Parliament – opportunistic. What will her role be except to warm the benches ahead of the ANC conference in December?

But these sorts of shenanigans are par for the course in a Zuma presidency. What really should wake every South African from complacency is what seems to be stirring around the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).

To understand the situation fully one needs to go back to the axing of former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. We have still not been given any coherent reason why these two competent individuals were fired. What we do know is that they stood as a bulwark against the capture of state-owned enterprises. Both Gordhan and Jonas were disinclined to use more public money to prop up corrupt, mismanaged SOEs such as Eskom and SAA until corporate governance improved and corrupt managers were fired. As Gordhan indicated when the possibly captured Lynne Brown, Minister of Public Enterprises, appeared before Parliament, the issue is crisp – there are those who seek to loot the state for private gain and such corruption needed to be arrested.

For whatever reason, Brown does not exercise the appropriate oversight over the Eskom Board – she is either unable or unwilling to do so.

Enter Malusi Gigaba and Sifiso Buthelezi – both men compromised; Gigaba by his association with the Guptas and Buthelezi tainted by his stint as chair of the Prasa board at a time of unbridled mismanagement and corruption. Buthelezi, as deputy finance minister, is chair of the PIC. Gigaba appears to be pressuring PIC CEO Dan Matjila to lend the state billions to bail out SAA. The sale of a stake in Telkom has been thrown in for good measure.

The PIC controls R1.9-trillion of government pension fund money. Matjila seems to coming under increased political pressure of late. Last week allegations surfaced about alleged corruption by Matjila. They seemed to surface on a fake news site linked to Gayton McKenzie and Kenny Kunene. Extraordinary stories have emerged of these convicted criminals and their ties to President Zuma. Matjila seems to have survived these allegations – for now. But he will be the subject of an internal investigation, it seems. Let us make no mistake, the PIC is the next frontier in looting and Matjila should watch his back. If there was any doubt why Gordhan and Jonas were axed, we need doubt no longer.

Most often in South Africa in recent years we have seen how this kind of story ends. The person standing in the way of those who wish to raid the kitty gets fired to make way for a corrupt, compromised individual. Granted, the PIC entered into an unwise deal to prop up Independent Newspapers a few years ago, but in general, Matjila has been a capable CEO and he has come out strongly against being politically pressured. Gigaba, for his part, issued a statement yesterday denying it all.

But there is something even more deeply disturbing about this potential raid on the PIC. That we are even speculating about such an unthinkable prospect is spine chilling even in these Zuma years when anything seems possible. It is quite clear that continuing to bail out failing enterprises, which enter dodgy deals and are headed by those who act as conduits for corruption, amounts to financial mismanagement of the highest order.

The implications are far-reaching for ordinary workers who serve the country in the most important of ways. Policemen and women, teachers and all government employees should be taking to the streets in the Cosatu march on Wednesday as a warning to Zuma and his corrupt acolytes that their pensions are not to be gambled with. Gigaba and Buthelezi are playing fast and loose with government employees’ futures.

There is a sacred pact – a bond of trust – between the state and its employees, that at the end of their working years they will indeed recoup that which they have paid into their pension funds. That trust is absolutely fundamental to the security of those who work for the state. That Zuma and his merry band are even contemplating such looting is callous beyond words and shows that we have now reached a new level of urgency as regards mobilising against this state capture. Citizens cannot wait until December and a magical outcome at the ANC conference. None will be forthcoming. The ANC, as Khoza says, cannot self-correct. The best we can hope for is a compromise candidate emerging in December and stemming the chaos. Thereafter, what happens is anyone’s guess. Of course, December may not bode well at all – a cancelled conference, a proxy presidency under Dlamini-Zuma, or a split within the ANC and the concomitant rupture of the South African political environment, are all on the menu of options right now.

Cosatu, ironically weakened by the very factionalism within the ANC, has called for the “mother of all strikes” against state capture on Wednesday. Now is the time to bring the economy to a standstill and protest as citizens did in South Korea and Brazil and which brought down a president.

The message has to be clear – government employees’ pensions are not up for grabs. DM

  • Judith February
    Judith-February.jpg
    Judith February

    Judith February is a governance specialist, columnist and lawyer. She  was previously executive director of the HSRC’s Democracy and Governance unit and also head of the Idasa’s South African Governance programme for 12 years.

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