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#ZumaTradeOff: How South Africans can beat Zuma at his own game

South Africa’s controversial head of state, President Jacob Zuma, has for years played a masterful tactical game to stay in power. Despite a damning Constitutional Court ruling on his Nkandla homestead last year and his purging of respected Treasury technocrats such as Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan, Zuma is still in power and seemingly looking more entrenched than ever. There’s no doubt that he’s ripping at every fabric of South Africa’s soul, and rating agencies latest downgrades of the country to junk status appear to be ushering in an era where Zuma is becoming synonymous with economic destruction. On April 18, there will be yet another vote of no confidence in Parliament regarding Zuma, but it’s highly unlikely to succeed amid the ANC closing ranks around its number one. However, as Siya Khumalo writes below, there is a way that white and black South Africans can partner to help take down Zuma – and the answer lies in truly beefing up broad-based black economic empowerment by making it beneficial to a wider array of South Africans and not just cronies. To achieve this, a key change to the law needs to be made. Take a read… – Gareth van Zyl.

By Siya Khumalo*

The President sold the country. We could return the favour by making him part of a trade-off between black people who want white people to share economic power, and white people who want black people to share political power.

I wish this weren’t about race. But black social media users have accused white people of protesting only when Zuma jeopardises the economy, but never over high tuition fees, minimum wages, or other matters that impact on black people whose economic worlds are permanently in junk status.

South African president’s radical economic transformation. More magic available at www.zapiro.com

Likewise, a lot of white people say if black people don’t join the call for new leadership, those issues won’t be solved even if white people tried to help solve them.

Each of these “sides” has to give something to get something back. Let’s call this the #ZumaTradeOff.

White people could share economic power, not by having their land and assets “expropriated without compensation,” but through Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE). This legislation hasn’t failed; it hasn’t been tried. Instead, it’s been abused by the politically connected.

BEE Novation consultant Lee du Preez has found a kink in the Act — its New Entrant provision. A company that takes on a black owner with a net worth of less than R50m may get bonus BEE points for enabling a “new entrant” to the economy a greater level of participation. Once that person’s net worth exceeds R50m, the company continues getting up to full points for transformed ownership; they just don’t get bonus points. He believes this is too high.

Du Preez’s argument is that once a person’s net worth exceeds R50m — heck, R10m! — he should no longer be considered black for BEE purposes because he’d be wealthier than the average white South African. Du Preez further argued that abuses of the high “new entrant” threshold, among other provisions, had led to people distrusting BEE; specifically, it had led to black people believing the slowness of economic transformation was white people’s fault, and white people believing Zuma’s political stronghold was black people’s fault.

The fault line in both instances is that Zuma uses tools like BEE to fund a patronage network beholden to himself instead of accelerating real economic transformation. It’s classic divide-and-conquer. The reasons for racial mistrust are two sides of exactly the same coin. You can’t get rid of the one without getting rid of the other. Hence, #ZumaTradeOff.

While Wilmot James was the Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, he observed that the DTI would “increase the threshold of the value of equity previously held to qualify as a ‘new entrant’ from R20m to R50m”:

“The DA believes that steps must be taken to ensure that B-BBEE does not become a tool for elite enrichment — we therefore argued for lowering the threshold in the definition of ‘new entrants’ to R10m and increasing the points that can be earned by involving new entrants and workers in empowerment transactions.”

Put differently, imagine disaster survivors being triaged for emergency medical assistance. How would we feel if the medical service personnel knew some of the victims personally, and decided to first give those spa treatments and pedicures before moving on to patients who urgently needed life-saving help?

The purpose of medical emergency intervention is to get people fixed enough so they can get their own spa treatments in the future. BEE’s purpose is to give black people a leg-up so they can someday go on to making their millions. Without a cap on the wealth an individual can make through BEE deals, we’ll never get around to benefiting those who aren’t politically connected. Someone with a net asset value of R49m isn’t a new entrant; he’s an Ancient of Days.

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, looks at a document as he attends the annual budget speech at the parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

What we have under Zuma’s watch is Bribe-Based Black Elite Enrichment. Zuma is not the way, the truth and the life without which none may come to radical economic transformation. He’s the broad and crowded gate to economic hell for black, Indian, coloured and white people.

Very simply put, if more black people step up to work for Zuma’s removal from the presidency, we’ll have an economy that works. If white people step up to drive lobbying for revisions to BEE, we’ll have an economy that works for black people as well. To break past our mutual distrust, we need to serve ourselves less and fight for one another more. We need a trade-off with Zuma as a sacrificial peace offering. Jesus has returned.

One practical way this can play out is in the lead-up to Parliament’s no-confidence vote on Tuesday the 18th of April. We must publicise and discuss the #ZumaTradeOff to one another – and then fight for it like our country’s future depends on it. Because it does. We can’t win unless we’re clear on what we all stand to win.

By the 18th, our Members of Parliament must have heard of the scandal: in return for selling the country, our whole president would have been sold off to political slaughter for a pro-forma 30 pieces of silver he isn’t worth. And they must vote accordingly.

  • Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is currently working on a book.
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