It was no coincidence that Brian Molefe was sworn in as an MP on precisely the day Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was delivering his Budget speech. Such is the nature of ANC rent-seeking politics; let’s hang the sword of Damocles over Gordhan’s head one more time. Despite the politics of the day, the show went on.
Gordhan painted a pretty grim picture of South Africa’s high inequality-low growth environment and the equally dismal global context that currently exists. This is no time for the faint-hearted.
Leaving the facts and figures aside, Gordhan did what President Zuma ought to have done in his State of the Nation Address (Sona).
Zuma’s stilted, unconvincing speech belied his disinterest in the detail of government and policy and clearly indicated his disconnect from the text.
Gordhan, on the other hand, used the Budget speech to draw us all to what he called a ‘larger purpose’. His deputy Mcebisi Jonas had been doing the spadework and for a while now calling for a ‘new consensus’ and for business, government, labour, civil society and all sectors to be involved in this project of inclusive growth.
At its core though is a ‘moral (read: not a corrupt) vision’.
Gordhan simply picked up that theme by using that well-worn word ‘transformation’ over 50 times in his speech.
What was abundantly clear, however, was that for Gordhan and Jonas the idea of ‘transformation’ is something quite different to what the rapacious class within the ANC and Cabinet imagine. Gordhan’s words were powerful. They hung uncomfortably in the air while he spoke and lingered long after he left the room. We then saw precisely why he and Team Treasury pose such a threat to what the prescient ANC in 1969 called the ‘chauvinism and narrow nationalism’ of an ‘elitist group’ who wish to ‘gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the masses.’
Those words sound staggeringly familiar today. Who are those who exploit ‘narrow and chauvinistic nationalism’ for their own benefit and who speak words of ‘transformation’ yet seek to line their pockets with the proceeds of dodgy deals and nefarious acts? Who are the individuals who seek to award tenders to their friends and associates at the expense of the poor? Who are those who sought to block the perfectly reasonable Fica Amendment Bill?
Mzwanele Manyi and other proxies have been fighting in Zuma’s corner pushing a need for ‘transformation’ of the economy and railing against ‘white monopoly capital’, yet at the same time opposing the Fica Amendment Bill for the most spurious of reasons.
Is it any wonder then that Gordhan’s speech was in fact a ‘call to action’, but not the tired, platitudinous one, rather a real one. He laid out the challenges, asking us all to ‘disprove’ the detractors’ and ‘defeat’ those whose greed and selfishness will obstruct us’ in the path to real transformation.
As the speech ended, the House rose in applause for a man who so obviously possesses what seems in such short supply these days - integrity. It rose for Gordhan because at last some dignity and respect was returned to the House. Here was someone who set out the path we need to take with clarity of mind.
As the applause continued there were some among Gordhan’s Cabinet colleagues who remained seated in a singular display of arrogance. They represent the rogues’ gallery: Bathabile Dlamini, the Social Development minister whose arrogance and inaction may well cause 17 million poor people not to receive their Sassa grants on time.
Dlamini has ignored a court order stating that the current service provider CPS’s appointment is unlawful and has been since 2014. Yet, she persists and has shown Gordhan the proverbial finger when he suggested an alternative service provider. One wonders why the incoherent Dlamini is so focused on ensuring that CPS retains the tender? It begs several questions regarding who is actually benefitting from this lucrative contract?
This, of course, is Zuma’s world and so undermining the Constitution and the ConCourt is virtually par for the course. One is known by the company one keeps and Dlamini’s fellow seated Cabinet minister was ‘Weekend Special’ Des/ David Van Rooyen who was fingered in the State of capture report and who seemed to spend much time travelling to Dubai.
Alongside him sat Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu who equally defended Zuma during the ‘Remember Khwezi’ protest at the IEC last year and almost went to fisticuffs with an EFF MP outside the chamber in 2015, losing her dignity and any shred of credibility in the process. What was she hoping to win through going to fisticuffs that she could not win by force of argument, one wonders?
And seated too was Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, he of ‘signal jamming’ fame who has turned our state security agency into one which protects only ‘uBaba’ and his faction. He remains the incoherently dangerous mind behind the increased securitisation of the state.
So Gordhan knows that he is fighting against state capture by not only his own boss and colleagues but also those proxies outside of Cabinet calling for ‘radical economic transformation’ and the ‘fall of white monopoly capital’. The challenge for Gordhan and co. is that these words and phrases can be used to either unite or divide us.
After all, we know that South Africa desperately needs transformation - of the economy and hearts and minds. His message, however, is that we ought not to be sidetracked by noise and the ‘alternative facts’ about redistribution and redress. The noise talks ‘transformation’ but in fact is a proxy for a small corrupt band of cronies hijacking the economy for their narrow gain.
In this context, who is able to lead us in a conversation about our past, the structure of the economy and redress without it being mired in noise and opportunism? Certainly not the president nor indeed the ANC so caught up in its own dysfunction and division. Last week Gordhan sought to provide leadership on a fresh commitment to ethical transformation.
However, Gordhan faces more immediate challenges given the swearing in of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe as an MP. Will he replace Jonas or will Molefe go somewhere less obvious like Public Enterprises? He has not come to Parliament to warm the benches for long, that much is certain.
Even more disconcerting is the lack of leadership at Sars. Commissioner Tom Moyane seems to be running a personal fiefdom and with the R30 billion tax revenue shortfall, one cannot help but wonder whether Moyane is doing his own bit of ‘Gordhan sabotage’? Zuma, we are told, is going to deal with the clearly dysfunctional relationship between Moyane and Gordhan. Quite how this will happen remains to be seen when Zuma himself is possibly fuelling the dysfunction. This past weekend Gordhan said again, “the public is very aware of what is going on. They know the agenda is to destroy Treasury… but the public knows what is right and wrong”.
Indeed we do. The question, with the not-so-obvious answer is, “what are we going to do about it?”
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february