Max du Preez on SA’s elective tipping point – and Zuma’s nuke strategy

CAPE TOWN — Firing nearly half the cabinet – all ministers linked to shady Zuptoid networks – will be necessary if a reformist new president such as Cyril Ramaphosa or Dr Zweli Mkhize wins the critical mid-December ANC leadership battle. That’s if they want to be taken seriously, veteran journalist and activist, Max du Preez tells the Cape Town Press Club. He speaks as the rumour and fake news mill grinds ever more crazily in the vortex approaching a mid-December party elective conference that will define our country for decades to come. One of the most dramatic rumours is that Zuma will shortly fire Ramaphosa in a historically ironic reprise of 14th June 2005 when Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as his deputy president. That was because Zuma was implicated in corruption during the Durban High court trial of businessman and his personal financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. We all know what happened next, the ANC elective conference sympathised with the charismatic Zulu strongman and replaced Mbeki with him. Now, rumour has it, Zuma will do the same to Ramaphosa – using the tried and tested method of digging up some serious-looking dirt. Yet, that might also backfire, consigning Zuma to the same fate as Mbeki. Hmmm – let’s rather stick to the facts… – Chris Bateman

By Donwald Pressly*

It must be clear to all of us that the ANC’s elective conference in December is going to be a critical tipping point. If the ANC elects Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa or party treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize as its new leader, President Jacob Zuma will be redeployed by January 2018. Max du Preez, who delivered the Barry Streek Memorial Lecture at the Cape Town Press Club, believes Ramaphosa or Mkhize would start unravelling the patronage networks and stop the nuclear deal. The Cape Messenger reports.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

Du Preez, himself a self-acknowledged political activist, who used his pen to fight apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s, believes that the African National Congress elective conference may never happen. The party could end up being so fraught with internal clashes – and even violence – that the conference would be derailed.

Max du Preez. (Pic: Twitter)

But if it does happen and, in addition, someone good is elected –Max appears to prefer Ramaphosa, who shares his age (and they have been on public platforms together in the past) – the new president “will most likely stop the nuclear deal in its tracks, and start the tough process of destroying the vast patronage networks established by Zuma.”

The next thing we as journalists should focus on is the increasing likelihood that the Zuma government is going to sign a contract with a Russian company to build several nuclear reactors, warned Du Preez.

“Zuma’s determination to do this is the only rational explanation for the appointment of David Mahlobo to the energy portfolio (in the cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday). If we read this with the reports that the national treasury is being emasculated by limiting its powers of veto over state departmental tenders and the shifting of much of its power to the presidency, the red lights are really flashing.”

“It is abundantly clear that SA doesn’t need nuclear power stations and that we certainly can’t afford them. By the time these power stations are completed, the renewable energy field would have developed to such an extent, and can deliver such cheap and safe power, that the nuclear stations would be very expensive white elephants.”

“There has to be a strong suspicion that the only explanation for government’s insistence to go ahead with this irrational project – that would bankrupt us for generations – is because someone very high up had already been paid massive bribes by Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear agency. We’re talking billions, rather than millions.”

It is likely that if the new ANC president were not Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, that person would start the process of replacing the Gupta-deployees in the cabinet, on the boards of the state-owned enterprises, and at the leadership of institutions like the SA Revenue Service and the National Prosecuting Authority.

At least 17 cabinet ministers were linked to the networks, and the new ANC president would have to get rid of all of these. So Du Preez warns it will be a tough job. But he believes that Ramaphosa is the best person for it.

A protestor holds a banner suggesting the ANC is “For Sale” during a nationwide march against corruption in Cape Town on September 30, 2015.Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

While Dlamini-Zuma would probably be strong enough to cast her ex-husband aside, he doubts she has the capacity to fire the tainted ministers, including her friend Bathabile Dlamini, the head of the ANC Women’s League. Dlamini, too, has been Dlamini-Zuma’s chief backer in her campaign for ANC president.

Once a clean-up has begun, South Africa could start focusing again on economic growth and the deepening of the culture of accountability.

If Dlamini-Zuma were elected, then it is unlikely that these networks would be tackled. “I don’t think she has the capacity to fire all these people… the 17 cabinet ministers,” said Du Preez.

A clean-up, of course, will only begin if someone ready to tackle the political mess is elected. He said he could not predict at this point who would win, but it was likely that Mkhize, Ramaphosa or Dlamini-Zuma were most likely to do so.

African National Congress (ANC)

Du Preez argued that the seeds for the present downward spiral were sown by President Thabo Mbeki, with his tolerance of corruption, irrational cadre deployments, and executive interference with state organs like the national prosecuting authority.

“But the downward slide gained pace after Zuma replaced him at Polokwane – and his business benefactors, not only the Guptas, realised that he was for sale. The assault on state-owned enterprises had already started then, especially after Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan resisted the Zuma bloc’s efforts to stack these boards with loyalists, and then was fired. In 2010 she was replaced by Malusi Gigaba, who had no such qualms.

But if we look back now, state capture and large-scale corruption really accelerated after the 2014 election, when Zuma was given five more years in power, Du Preez said.

Du Preez established the anti-apartheid newspaper VryeWeekblad in the 1980s. In later years he has been a columnist for a variety of newspaper and online news sites. He lives in Riebeek Kasteel. He has twice delivered the Barry Streek Memorial Lecture. He was a parliamentary reporting colleague of the late Streek.

  • Donwald Pressley is the editor of Cape Messenger.