Lovemore Ranga Mataire Senior Writer
Long after President Jacob Zuma announced his midnight Cabinet reshuffle that claimed the scalps of four ministers and several deputies, South Africa is still ruminating on the possible impact of the changes to the already volatile body politic.
Predictably, the white-dominated media went hysterical in condemning the reshuffle, describing it as an attempt by President Zuma to buffer himself with low-key officials lacking gravitas to hold him accountable.
As anticipated, the focus was on Pravin Gordhan, the former Finance minister, largely viewed by the conservative establishment as a prudent individual not given to populist ideas of the “radical economic transformation” mantra which has been the ANC’s rallying call ahead of the 2019 elections.
Of course, two things did happen.
The rand momentarily staggered and South Africa was downgraded to junk status by S & P global ratings agency.
But the cataclysmic developments that had been predicted remained just illusionary. Desperate to score political points out of the dramatic Cabinet reshuffle, President Zuma’s adversaries rallied in calling for his immediate resignation.
The death of anti-apartheid struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada just in the nick of the Cabinet reshuffle, became a convenient rendezvous for all those opposed to President Zuma’s leadership including those who had long been in political hibernation.
ANC stalwarts like former President Kgalema Motlanthe and a former director-general Frank Chikane added their voices for President Zuma to resign.
Even the Vice President of the republic, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is angling to succeed President Zuma, did the unusual by letting his personal inclinations get the better of collective responsibility by calling the reshuffle “unacceptable”.
Deep rifts within the ANC’s top six were glaringly visible with the secretary- general Gwede Mantashe accusing President Zuma of unilateralism.
What became lost in the milieu of anti-Zuma populist rhetoric was the fact that President Zuma had pulled a Houdini against those opposed to radical economic transformation that until his reshuffle had “captured” the country’s national purse.
Gordhan had turned himself into a symbol of resistance against President Zuma’s vision of economic inclusivity for all South Africans particularly on the issue of land redistribution and economic empowerment of the black majority still reeling on the margins of mainstream economy.
With Gordhan in the way, President Zuma had little room to manouvre hence the need to replace him with a more youthful and loyal cadre in the mould of Malusi Gigaba. Gordhan had become, in the eyes of some ANC members, the albatross, a real servant of white monopoly capital.
There were other reasons for his sacking. Intelligence reports revealed a covet plan by the former finance minister to whip up anti-Zuma sentiments using foreign forces and big businesses.
In an address to the ANC Youth League last December, President Zuma said he had learned of a campaign by a “foreign chamber” and “big business” calling on him to resign.
“I will never on my own resign because if I do so, I would be surrendering to the monopoly capital,” President Zuma said.
President Zuma’s sentiments were to gain ascendency within the ANCYL, with its leader later saying that the youth would only support leaders who will advance land restitution and “have a lot of appetite to collapse white monopoly capital”.
Monopoly capital can be traced to Marxist critique of capital that focuses on corporations controlling vast swathes of the economy. In South Africa, monopoly capital was and remains a major subject inspiring politics and activism.
ANC’s Freedom Charter demands that: “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.”
Upon his release from prison in February 1990, Nelson Mandela said words to the effect; “White monopoly of political power must be ended and we need a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to address the inequalities of apartheid and create a genuine democratic South Africa.”
Some would argue that Mandela himself later in his life became a captive of the same white political power he so passionately condemned upon his release from prison.
Understandably, the ANC government had introduced a myriad policy interventions to restructure the economic system but it had been an uphill struggle as those holding on to apartheid privileges are unwilling to relinquish them for the collective good of all citizens.
No one can reasonably argue that for more than 100 years, white people enjoyed domination over people and space in South Africa and that that power is seen to be entrenched in access to land ownership and opportunities.
Professor Achille Mbembe from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser) termed white tendencies to hold on to white privileges some kind of “self-enclaving” since 1994.
So in dismissing Gordhan, President Zuma is trying to refocus the oldest revolutionary party in tandem with its founding vision enshrined in the Freedom Charter.
On a more personal level, President Zuma felt that Gordhan’s continued presence in Cabinet was no longer tenable especially with intelligence reports saying he had called 76 times to his ex-wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma. Gordhan was thus alleged to have been part of a plot to kill President Zuma who had to be rushed to Russia when he fell ill. Doctors confirmed traces of poison after tests.
As an ex-intelligence head, President Zuma could not take any chances as he believed that only someone within his immediate family with access to his food could have been working with Gordhan to poison him.
But while the plot to kill allegations may be a sideshow, the real crux of the Cabinet reshuffle lies in the ANC’s quest for historical redress of past inequities. President Zuma may be aware of allegations levelled against some of his senior leaders including himself, of being agents of white monopoly capital, whereas the party has identified it as its chief foe.
In a strategy and tactics document adopted during the 2007 Polokwane elective conference, the ANC said: “The liberation movement defined the enemy, on the other hand, as the system of white minority domination with the white community being the beneficiaries and defenders of this system.
“Monopoly capital was identified as the chief enemy of the [national democratic revolution]. It was also emphasised that apartheid was not in the long-term interest of the white community.”
A lot has changed since that conference with Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi now outside the ANC fold but the need for a radical economic transformation remains the rallying mantra ahead of the 2019 elections.
No one could have captured it better than the leader of the Black Land First, Andile Mngxitama, who described Gordhan as conflicted, compromised and captured by white settler monopoly capital.
Mngxitama listed more than 30 reasons why Gordhan was not a fit and proper person to head the finance ministry and called for his immediate firing.
Top on the list of the 30 reasons was the allegation that the former finance minister has business ties to white capital, which compromises his ability to serve the nation.
“In this regard the ‘Register of Members’ Interests, 2015” in the ‘Joint Committee on Ethics and Members Interests’ lists all the businesses that Gordhan has interests in. The said Register of Members’ Interests indicates companies that are accused of stealing R26 billion from the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) which is under the Ministry of Finance. Quite clearly, Gordhan will not investigate companies that he has shares in and is benefitting from,” said Mngxitama in a statement posted on the organisation’s website.
As the dust began to settle, for sure it will, President Zuma will ultimately emerge the winner especially among the majority South Africans desperate for immediate economic transformation.
And he has done before (wriggling out of awkward situations), President Zuma outsmarted his more intellectually fancied foes by resorting to pragmatic native intelligence. He has played the populist card and justified his actions on the need to respond to the real needs of blacks.
As he indicated in his defence of the Cabinet reshuffle, President Zuma chose the youthful Gigaba (Finance Minister) and Fikile Mbalula (Home Affairs) for the exuberance and also the fact that they appear not beholden to white capital. Both are former ANC youth leaders.