It’s been a year since #NeneGate happened.
President Jacob Zuma. in a stunning attempt to capture the treasury, dismissed the Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, and replaced him with the relatively unknown Des Van Rooyen. It is now known that the latter had visited the Gupta family for 7 consecutive days before his appointment, and the president – his ties to the Gupta family being undeniable – knew this. On that fateful Thursday, the economy took its biggest 1 day hit since the dawn of democracy, even eclipsing the fallout of the September 11 attacks and the 2008 Credit Crisis.
Thankfully, the heavy pressure, from all players, that followed this turn of events caused the president to reverse his decision, and reinstate Pravin Gordhan as Finance Minister just 4 days later. The economy has since held its own, and we have managed to evade a sovereign downgrade in the last 12 months under the Finance Minister’s leadership. This, of course, over and above the constant attempts to remove him through spurious means.
But, 1 year on, #NeneGate gave us an insight into how desperately the President wants to capture the state, and it gives us an indication of what is to come.
For one, his audacious move showed his hand in attempting to capture every part of the state in order to satisfy his every whim. He must have known that replacing the competent minister with someone who has had a poor track record in local government would have badly affected the markets. Yet, he acted as if this was a perfectly justifiable appointment, given the replacement’s academic credentials.
But the severe backlash in the days that followed demonstrated to the president that his power is not unfettered, and that the citizens are slowly taking an active role in holding him and his party to account. This was further evident in the poor showing of the ANC in August’s local government elections, and the losing of 3 key metros to the Democratic Alliance.
However, it doesn’t appear to look like the president has learnt from this lesson. Just over 3 months after #NeneGate, the Constitutional Court ruled against him in the matter of the usage of public funds for non-security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead. Given the fact that he knew of these upgrades, any leader worth his or her salt would admit to this grave error and resign.
But not our Jacob. On April 1, he stood up in front of the nation and gave what at best can be described as a crass apology. He managed to find the nearly R8 million he has to pay back, but even how he managed to secure a loan that big is shrouded in secrecy.
And it is these events that give us an indication of what might come. Very recently, the president survived a motion of no confidence from the National Executive Committee of the ANC (which I wrote about here), and this will surely empower him to act mercilessly against his detractors within the ANC and embolden his attempts to capture the last remaining vestagess of the state, thereby ensuring his political survival.
He is sure to use the ANC annual anniversary celebration, the January 8 statement, to outline just how he plans to enrich himself using the ANC, and then use the remaining part of January to position his pawns in the executive to key positions, as well as ejecting his naysayers from the cabinet. Finally, in the run up to the State of the Nation address in February, he will ensure that state institution heads will toe his line, thereby confirming his supposedly iron-clad grip on the state, to the detriment of the poor.
The chorus of opposition, in civil society, in the opposition benches in the National Assembly, and the veterans within the ANC, will continue to rise, and bring the nation to a watershed moment. And over the next 12 months, these 2 forces will heighten the battle royal for the soul of the nation.
There is an apt saying from the Cape Flats, “When 2 killers meet, one must die”. Let’s hope that democracy prevails, so that the struggle ensuring a better life for all South Africans can continue.