Elections are of course pivotal to democracy. They unfortunately can also cripple the process of government in the year that they take place, since incumbent national leaders act not according to what is necessary but rather to what is expedient.

Since President Jacob Zuma’s ambitions for a second term depend on the African National Congress’ Mangaung elective conference in December, don’t expect him to give much attention to South Africa’s needs in the meanwhile. Zuma will be consumed for the next eight months with keeping his tripartite alliance allies onside and his party rivals wrong footed.

So the business sector can expect to continue taking a drubbing and will generally continue with its pusillanimous habit of keeping its collective head below the parapet. This is the year of the unionists, many of whose claimed 2-million members also hold ANC party cards. They were crucial to unseating Zuma’s unpopular predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, and if he is to triumph at Mangaung, they have to be on-board.

That is why the ANC is preparing legislation that will restrict the use of casual labour, despite the issue not yet having been fully aired at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), the government-business negotiating forum. That is also why Cosatu’s opposition to e-tolling may yet force its postponement, at least until after Mangaung.

It is, however, the fate of Nedbank chair Dr Reuel Khoza that most vividly illustrates the danger of straying unthinkingly in front of a presidential re-election cavalcade. Khoza wrote in his company’s annual report of the “degenerating” moral quotient of SA’s political leadership, a “strange breed … determined to undermine the rule of law and override the constitution”.

Government’s response was instantaneous and vitriolic.

Ministers Blade Nzimande and Nathi Mthethwa, spokesperson Jimmy Manyi and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, among others, put in the boot. Khoza’s comments were “reckless and unbalanced”, his “paymasters” were colonialists and racists, business exploited workers and paid slave wages, teacher unions called for a Nedbank boycott, and the Zuma-aligned Black Business Council derided Khoza’s “sophisticated but … uncouth language”.

What the media missed was that Khoza’s remarks were not in any way new. Khoza’s annual report comments are a verbatim replica of what he has said before, both at greater length and in language that at times is more barbed.

In October last year, opening the Institute of Directors (IOD) conference, Khoza said, “We are a nation with no clearly articulated, compelling vision, a country with only a fuzzy sense of destiny. The inspiration of the post-1994 era has deserted us, and our political leadership’s moral quotient is fast degenerating, with cabinet ministers embezzling, wasting, maladministering (sic) and abusing their fiduciary duty with impunity, a leadership without compunction — no pricking of conscience. Even Gwede Mantashe … laments the painful reality that we have allowed thieves and thugs to run the country”.

“We observe putative national leaders who actively suppress excellence and brush shining professionalism aside with gusto, simply because it is at variance with their corrupt view of the world. The same questionable leadership is also preoccupied with the warped logic that would have us believe that the superior wisdom and expertise of independent institutions such as the judiciary is inferior to that of the party, fragmented, ill-informed and chaotic as it is.”

As well as then expounding on what was later to be published virtually word-for-word in the Nedbank report, Khoza went on to deplore the “fallout between government and civil society” with the result that “instead of seeking atonement and fostering consensus, you have chief whips spitting adversarial venom”. At the same time economic confidence was being corroded and foreign investment deterred by a “deleterious, ill-considered and vexed” nationalisation campaign.

So how come Khoza’s words, which now so outrage the ANC, drew no rebuke six months ago? Part of the reason is that the media inexplicably did not report Khoza’s IOD address, so although the ANC was most likely aware of his remarks, it could turn a blind eye.

This time around the media was less dozy and it is, after all, electoral conference year. No slur against an endorsement-seeking president shall be allowed to go unchallenged.

Read Dr Khoza’s full IOD speech ‘Courageous Leadership’ here


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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