Political Watch

The only certainty is that South Africa is in deep trouble

SA political scene akin to theatre of the absurd
Theatre of the absurdlarge.jpg

The South African political scene and its economy have been in a cycle of escalating turmoil for some time, but in the last week it has become something akin to the theatre of the absurd.

Just consider the scenario sketched by the director of a global macro-political risk consultancy that suggests that the president of the country might deliberately be edging it closer to a sovereign credit downgrade to give him an excuse to get rid of the minister of finance.

In maybe just slightly more polite words, Willis Sparks, director of the Eurasia Group, was, according to a report on MoneyWeb, saying exactly the same as a number of opponents of President Jacob Zuma and his cronies have been saying for a while now: They are putting their own interest – especially full control over the national treasury –  above the interest of the country.

A sovereign credit rating downgrade to junk status in December could be the trigger that allows President Zuma to remove Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from his position, the Sparks argument goes.

This comes on the back of the announcement of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that Gordhan would be prosecuted for fraud on what most legal experts judge to be very flimsy legal grounds.

The markets seem have reacted immediately in a way indicting that they are already costing in a credit downgrade. Some serious damage has already been done to the economy and the scene is set to leave everyone in the economy poorer, including the most vulnerable poorest of the poor.

The NPA seems to be trying to hedge its bets or strike two birds with one shot. It said the latest move on Minister Gordhan had nothing to do with earlier attempts to build a case against him in connection with a so-called rogue intelligence unit in the South African Revenue Service (SARS). But at its media briefing on the issuing of summonses against Mr Gordhan and two other officials, most of the time was spent on the issue of the alleged rogue unit.

And then, after much of the damage had been done with the summons being announced, with court date and all, NPA Director Shaun Abrahams extended an invitation to Minister Gordhan to make representations to him for the charges to be dropped.

From Mr Gordhan’s  response it became clear that he had repeatedly asked the NPA to allow him to make representations, but was never granted the opportunity. 

The whole seriously damaging spectacle, triggering the economic wrecking ball on South Africa’s creditworthiness, could have been avoided. But, as happened at his media briefing with the reference to the so-called rogue spy unit, Abrahams’ real motives shown through clearly – trying to create the image of reasonable fairness while the real, not so well hidden, aim of putting Gordhan under maximum pressure has been achieved.

Strategy backfiring

Al the signs are there that the ‘Zuma cabal’s’ strategy to retain their grip on state power for their own narrow self-interest is back. No longer does anybody believe the Zuma claims that the NPA is an independent institution of state acting in the best interest of the rule of law in the country.

From the side of civil society, indicative of what is happening, Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation on Friday sent a letter of intent to National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, calling on him to withdraw the charges against Gordhan.

Former Constitutional Court judge Johann Kriegler of Freedom Under Law said: “… we cannot stand by while untold damage is being done to the reputation and stability of our country following the shocking allegations levelled at the Minister of Finance and the theatrical manner in which they were broadcast …”

They have set a deadline of 21 October for the NPA to respond, otherwise they will approach the court directly to try and end the process.

If the charges do make it to court, the cabal should take note that increasing numbers of leading lights, not only from civil society, but also from within the heart of the ANC’s core structures, are uniting behind Pravin Gordhan.

Last week the Mail & Guardian reported how it “interviewed more than 10 alliance leaders, including current national executive committee (NEC) members and cabinet ministers, who openly threw their weight behind Gordhan. They also vowed to join other South Africans on 2 November to show support for the embattled finance minister when he appears in court on charges of fraud”.

A similar process is taking place regarding the release of the provisional report of the investigation of just-retired Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, on ‘state capture’.

It is becoming just about impossible for the ANC and its alliance to come out of this situation in one piece.

To this can be added the bobbing and weaving of Zuma and the NPA to try and dodge the reintroduction of 783 criminal charges against the president.

It all makes for a very confusing and uncertain political environment, not only facilitating credible grounds for the spawning of conspiracy theories and speculations about what is really happening but makes predictions of how it will play out in the 2019 general election near impossible.

At this stage it is also impossible to predict which side of the divide will finally win the war to determine by whom and/or how future governance of the state will be arranged.

Net result

The net result is that it leaves the country under an ever-darkening cloud of uncertainty and with the danger of conflict erupting between opposing factions. Just imagine the possibility of clashes between these groups in the streets on 2 November when Mr Gordhan is set to appear in court.

The only certainty for now is that South Africa is in deep trouble and will remain under a cloud of uncertainty for some time to come.

Also read: South Africa is at an inflection point: will it resist, or succumb to state capture?

                 Political noise drowns out growing water crisis

 

by Piet Coetzer

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