When most South Africans awoke on Friday morning, the world was different from when they went to sleep the night before.
For the rest who had kept vigil through the night until the extent of Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle became evident, the world was somewhat more familiar, but inevitably bleaker, because of the time spent reflecting on the import of the changes, and what they mean to South Africa.
Much has been written and said since the announcement filtered out, and the names of those out and those now in were imparted, literally one at a time, but one thing is certain, the level of societal outrage surpasses anything in our recent political history.
Jacob Zuma’s unctuous assurances in his recorded media announcement, that he had made changes to the executive to “improve efficiency and effectiveness” rang hollow when we heard that cabinet ministers Bathabile Dlamini and Faith Muthambi, who have been found to be incompetent by the courts or Parliament, remained in cabinet, while others who clearly are competent – Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas, Derek Hanekom, Aaron Motsoaledi – had been fired.
Jacob Zuma’s touting as a reason for their dismissal, a completely discredited intelligence report which accuses Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas of plotting to overthrown the present government, effectively reduced his credibility – and that of the country – to zero.
The emperor’s new clothes are now evident for all to see.
The Rand had already tanked, bond yields had skyrocketed and the outflows of foreign capital were well underway by the time the announcement was made, and the bourse haemorrhaged as share prices plummeted in response to panic sell-offs.
In one fell swoop, Jacob Zuma had achieved the exact opposite of what he says he wishes to achieve – a better life for all through this tired, hackneyed and little understood canard of radical economic transformation.
This all came towards the end of a week of high political drama, in which the funeral of struggle stalwart Ahmed “Uncle Kathy” Kathrada became an impromptu platform for the emergence of a groundswell of opposition to the accreting excesses of Jacob Zuma and his many hangers-on, aimed at self-enrichment for the few, at the expense of the many.
The irony that Jacob Zuma is doing precisely what he accuses white monopoly capital of doing, is inescapable, but this time, he has gone to far.
Last time, December 9 2015, his sneaky putsch to get his hands on the public purse was thwarted, but it still wreaked havoc on our economy.
There has been no such reversal this time, but for the first time since he became president of the ANC and the country, his actions have been publicly condemned by three of the ANC top six leadership – Gwede Mantashe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize – and by Tri-Partite Alliance partner, the SACP, which is now calling stridently for his removal from office.
On Sunday, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu launched a back-handed Twitter assault on Jacob Zuma by praising the media for exposing his links to the Gupta family, the social grant payment crisis, and the ANC’s “black-ops” campaign, paid for with taxpayers money, during the 2016 local government election.
The DA is pursuing a Parliamentary no confidence debate, and the EFF has petitioned the Constitutional Court to compel House Speaker Baleka Mbete to implement impeachment proceedings in accordance with its Nkandla judgement last year.
Will this all quieten down, and will life go on as before?
That the DA and EFF initiatives are likely to fail, is inevitable, since although Jacob Zuma’s support in the ANC is dwindling, it cannot bring itself to expose the party to the embarrassment of a sitting president being removed from office, even if that is the only recourse to prevent catastrophic economic consequences for the majority of its support base. Appearances clearly matter more than the well being of its constituents.
The Rand will settle once more, albeit lower than it was before this fresh, greedy stupidity, and bond yields will stabilise.
The capital outflows will continue, and the long-awaited rating agency downgrade will come to pass – we will be rated junk-bond status, with all of the attendant penalties.
Pravin Gordon alluded to this, when he noted in his final press conference on Friday morning, that Treasury had gone to the market for R600 million, but after Thursday night, only R200 million had been bid for, and at a drastically increased rate.
The likelihood of our own Arab-style spring is remote – the Zuma-compliant security cluster took care of that last year, by cracking down brutally on the #FeesMustFall campaign and successfully infiltrating and emasculating its leadership.
The other possibility of a mass uprising was averted when the Constitutional Court took steps to ensure that social grants were paid on April 1.
It is ironic that the very institution that Jacob Zuma seeks to emasculate – the judiciary – has been his salvation.
It is now a matter of public record, that the cabinet changes Jacob Zuma announced came from elsewhere, not from within the ANC, and the top six ANC leadership were advised, not consulted about the changes.
Ergo, the assertion that Jacob Zuma has gone rogue, gains traction.
Come December, the ANC’s elective conference will convene. Jacob Zuma cannot stand for a third term as ANC president.
Whoever takes the helm, and that is a matter of intense speculation, the ANC will end up with two centres of power: a new ANC president wanting to exercise his or her newfound authority, and a president of the country increasingly acting in a fashion that is not in the interests of the country or his party.
How do you think that is likely to play out?