Political Watch

Who knew of the Nene move before Zuma flew into another storm?

Zuma and Nene - happier days
Happier days.jpg

More members of government than President Jacob Zuma himself knew he was going to fire Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene – and they should be made to own up to the advice they gave him.

From the reserved reaction expressed by even the ANC itself and the South African Communist Party to the “shock and disconcertion” from the third member of the governing alliance, COSATU, it is clear that Mr Zuma did not consult widely before the ‘mini-reshuffle’ of his cabinet on Wednesday last week. But some, probably more senior, members of his government did know beforehand.

This we know because at least one journalist, who should be congratulated on a job well done, had the story spot on earlier in the week with his report on rumours about an imminent cabinet reshuffle.

Writing in Business Day, Sam Mkokeli reported that rumours doing the rounds that Mr Zuma was about to announce his sixth cabinet reshuffle since he took office in 2009 and that he had his “ sights trained on the Treasury and the Department of Energy”.

The moves around the Department of Energy did not materialise, but as far as the Ministry of Finance is concerned, he had the details remarkably right. He wrote, among other things:

  • “A source says that Nhlanhla Nene is to make way for a backbencher in the form of one Des van Rooyen, a malleable member of parliament’s finance committee”;
  • “… the Treasury has dragged its feet in providing funds for the nuclear deal, the apex procurement programme of the Zuma era”;
  • “The Treasury has also clashed recently with Dudu Myeni, the board chairwoman at South African Airways (who also happens to be the chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Trust). Ms Myeni has already claimed two scalps in previous reshuffles, when ministers who stood in her way were shafted”; and
  • “To manage this reshuffle, Mr Nene could be encouraged to ‘apply’ for a job at one of the multilateral institutions, such as the Brics Bank.”

Having spent nearly 20 years of my life in and around parliament and politics, first as a journalist and later after a break of a few years as a member, I know that rumours of cabinet reshuffles do not come out of thin air. They come from members of government who are in the know and their close members of staff.

Make them own up

Considering the extremely negative and potentially devastating fallout for the country, it becomes important to know who knew beforehand and what advice, if any, did senior and/or key members of government give the president when they were informed of his intentions.

I suspect that some of that advice concerned the timing of the announcement. It was the only strategically astute element of the whole saga: the announcement came after the debt rating agencies’ final rating of South Africa for the year and while parliament is in recess, leaving some time for the dust to settle over the holiday time.

Another vital piece of information now is which domestic aircraft leasing company, reportedly introduced to the SAA board by Myeni, is involved in the controversial SAA contract that ex-minister Nene refused to authorise? Thus far Myeni has refused to supply the company’s name to the media.

Remember the controversy Deputy President found himself in earlier this year when it came to light that he flew with an official delegation to Japan in a plane belonging to Westdawn Investments? Westdawn Investments belongs to the Gupta family and has a son of President Zuma, Duduzane, as one of its directors. The relationship between the President and the Guptas has been the source of numerous controversies in recent years.

If I were a member of the opposition in parliament now I would use my holiday time to ensure there are a good number of questions about the whole Nene/reshuffle/SAA affair to senior members of government on the Order Paper when parliament reopens in the new year.

And that the controversy surrounding the reshuffle does not end with SAA. Constitutional expert Pierre de Vos, Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance at the University of Cape Town, made a very valid point when he tweeted last week: “So, if the President loses the Nkandla case in the Con Court (as is likely) the new Minister of Finance will decide how much must be repaid.”

The web of multiple instances of conflict of interest in the Zuma administration seems to continue expanding.

Little applause

One does not know what it is with President Zuma and aircraft, but he keeps flying into political storms.

Judged by the absence of the normal applause from his own party and the neutral wording of the official party statement in reaction to Wednesday’s announcement, he might now have taken on one storm too many.

The statement starts off saying it “… notes and respects the decision of President Jacob Zuma to appoint a new Minister of Finance … (he) has exercised his Constitutional prerogative to appoint a new Minister … who we believe has what it takes to lead the Ministry…”

The ANC will make a grave mistake if it attempts to just laugh off the #ZumaMustFall-storm the announcement provoked on social media.

The party should heed the words of the Quote of the week De Vos used on his blog, Constitutionally Speaking last week:

        “A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and                   applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to               general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.” (Søren Kierkegaard)

                                                                                                                                                                                          by Piet Coetzer

Also readJan van Riebeeck set the tone early

                    Yes minister: how political appointments tip the scales of fearless advice

                    How to prevent the Zumification of your wealth

                    Don't rock the fiscal boat

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