Open letter: Zuma wants cronies to be ‘black Ruperts’

Over the last week, President Jacob Zuma has again shaken South Africa to its core by removing respected Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas from their posts. In Gordhan’s place, Zuma has installed Malusi Gigaba – a minister who had a questionable record as Minister of Home Affairs after he implemented a disastrous child travel policy dented tourist numbers in the country. On Monday, the market started reacting more vigorously with the rand losing significant ground amid fears that a credit downgrade is now on the cards for South Africa. Many South Africans are suspicious of Zuma’s intention behind his Cabinet reshuffle, amid speculation that the Gupta family have once again had sway over who occupies certain government positions. But in this piece below, Marius Oosthuizen says that Zuma’s firing of Gordhan also has a lot to do with ideology and specifically the recent Guptoids’ mantra around dismantling so-called ‘white monopoly capital’ – Gareth van Zyl.

By Marius Oosthuizen*

The media and the public are reading the cabinet reshuffle wrong.

Marius Oosthuizen

Most of the articles and public statements about the President’s firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and others, is framed as a Gupta-led conspiracy of criminality by a network of extractive crooks. This has some merit of course – the Guptas have been shown by the former public protector and by the confessions of the former deputy finance minister being propositioned in Saxonwold, to be a hidden hand swaying the president’s judgment.

But critically, this reading of the national and political tea leaves fails to account for a much broader, and possibly much more important question; what is the ideological basis for the recent culling of trusted ANC cadres?

Well, to answer this question, let us ponder ”why president Zuma does enjoy widespread support in certain quarters?” Is it simply his Zulu credentials that makes him a popular tribalist? Is it the vast patronage network which he presides over, that is his source of power? Is it perhaps the small-Nyana-skeletons that all influential people in the ANC have now amassed in their decades-long money-grab of poor governance and mismanagement of public funds? IS there another source?

President Zuma represents a departure from the neoliberal consensus that has marked South Africa since the negotiated settlement. The President is finally, after almost two terms in office, beginning to do exactly what he said he would in the run up to his political assassination of former president Thabo Mbeki.

He said he would racially transform, which means radically blacken, the economy. It is no small irony that on #BlackMonday the president is being lambasted by the media and civil society and opposition parties for reshuffling his cabinet, while his vocal supporters such as Andile Mngxitama, and Jimmy Manyi are chanting his praises.

The key to understanding the real nature of the president’s actions is to get into the mind of these true believers of the president’s accelerated radical economic transformation agenda.

The president has on a number of occasions explained his worldview in relation to transformation and the political economy. He has said that the ANC succeeded at taking political power from the apartheid nationalists. The next step, he says, is to take economic power. This means that the president does not believe in a free market of competing interests within a fair set of rules and regulations, whereby the most innovative and most well-resourced and most customer centric, survive in a fair marketplace.

No, the president sees the economy as he does a political constituency – amass power and then wield it in the interests of amassing more power. The president sees his “transformational” role as that of an opponent to entrenched capital, having to wrestle control of markets, sectors and importantly, state-owned enterprises and ultimately private companies, out of the hands of their current owners.

Read also: Johann Rupert off-script: ‘My enemy is your enemy, Pravin’. Watch him slam Zuma, Malema!

Now this poses a major question – who will become their new owners and beneficiaries once captured? Well, in the president’s worldview the new owners should be black, preferably Zulu and definitely his political allies. The likes of Jimmy Manyi are exhilarated by the prospects of get-rich-quick politics.

They want to be black Ruperts. It’s really that simple. The likes of Andile Mngxitama, somewhat of a reform fundamentalist with his “black first land first” movement, have set the goal, of the end being wholesale redress irrespective of the means.

Let the economic parasites weaken the host, they argue in a manner, not minding the corruption of the likes of the Guptas as long as in the end, people with dark skin pigment who therefore descend from the African Bantu or the like, get to own the land and what’s been built thereon.

To miss this racial nationalist ideological gene pool, from where the president draws his political agenda, is to miss the elephant in the room – Jacob Zuma enjoys the support of the Baleka Mbete’s and the Lindiwe Zulu’s because they are true believers of the narrative that Msholozi has preached.

To them, he is a hero of the black agenda, even though his personal ethics are questionable and his tactics destructive to the ANC. These are not Mandela’s children, they more resemble Winnie’s ideological complexion, only they have not fully drunk the nationalisation Kool-Aid. This is all that differentiates them from Julius Malema.

The problem then for the likes of Gwede Mantashe and Cyril Ramaphosa is not as simple as ousting a corrupt president and his corrupt friends. They are not only fighting for control of the National Treasury from the hands of the “Zuma Faction” or exploitive crooks. They have a more subtle challenge. They are up against a growing army of Brian Molefe’s – elite and soon to be elite black political activists who practice their activism in private enterprise and state-owned enterprises and see their calling as to steal away the levers of economic control on behalf of the broader black majority.

This ideology might be morally incoherent and deeply flawed from a macroeconomic economic point of view, but if your political adolescence was spent steeped in communism and Marxism, blended into a stew of African liberation theology, and you’ve never done an honest day’s work in a corporation that turns a profit on the basis of a service rendered, the ideology looks pretty reasonable and even attractive.

How SA’s top cartoonist Zapiro interprets #Zumamustfall. More of his work is at www.zapiro.com

The president is wrong if he thinks the Gupta-types will be better to the hungry masses than the Rhodes-types of the colonial period or the Broederbond-types of the apartheid era were. But as wrong as he is, he does believe his own narrative and he has many supporters. The media and the president’s opponents in the ANC and the general public, would do well to consider their response to the demands of this group.

Unless they can offer them an alternative path to economic power, one that meets their rather lavish and impatient appetite for change, they will not succeed at making the case that the president is a bad leader. All they achieve through their protest is to prove that the president is not a leader that serves the interests of entrenched capital, instead courageously intervening in favour of hungry outsiders.

  • Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics. He oversees the Future of Business in SA project that uses strategic foresight and scenario planning to explore the future of South Africa, Africa and BRICS.