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Is President Mbeki conniving with business against Jacob Zuma?

Opportunism and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances are arguably some of the prime ingredients of success in business. The changing political landscape in South Africa has required some business leaders to re-evaluate their political positioning. Under the Mbeki administration, there had been accusations that those who were closely aligned to the party heavyweights, including the heavyweights themselves – the so-called “usual suspects” — benefited unfairly from BEE transactions to the detriment of other less known and less connected black businessmen. There is growing sentiment among those who were left on the periphery of BEE prosperity that now is their time.

Since Zuma rose to power, a number of black business leaders have come out of the woodwork to mount their colours to the Zunami. These are business leaders whose silence was deafening for the better part when Zuma endured political and legal misery; and settled on expressing no support for him until even the blind could see he was, in spite of his alleged improprieties, the path to immeasurable prosperity. It is well within their rights and in the interest of their business success, however transient, that they elect a political position of convenience. Business feeds on opportunism.

Sipho Pityana, who was a director-general in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Mbeki’s government and now is the executive chairman of Izingwe Holdings, is one of the numerous business leaders who have aligned themselves with Jacob Zuma. Sipho Pityana contends that persisting with the charges against Zuma is “reckless and foolhardy” and not in the public interest.

He, like Blade Nzimande, attempts to blackmail us by saying, “The crisis of confidence in the country would set in (when Zuma is charged). The price of political instability would begin to show in the economy as skills and capital flights become real. Is this the price that the country should be prepared to pay for the price of a conviction against Zuma?” Pityana conveniently ignores the fact that the subversion of the rule of law is by itself enough reason to trigger the flight of capital he refers to.

Sipho Pityana goes on to admit that, “business in particular tends to be very opportunistic. Its tendency is often to associate with those connected to the powers-that-be, not with those who may have fallen out of favour,” thus making his intentions and those of many other like him crystal clear.

Another business leader worth mentioning is Sandile Zungu, a former Chairman of Denel and now chairman of Zungu Investments and Umthunzi Telecoms among a varied portfolio. Sandile Zungu along with Matodzi CEO Sello Rasethaba and Robert Gumede, executive chairman of GijimaAst, organised an event in November 2007 for business leaders to dine with Zuma; and it was reported at the time that many prominent black business people shunned his invite. They may be excused for having not been endowed with the gift of foresight, otherwise they would have known that in the business arena of opportunism, President Mbeki is a liability.

Sandile Zungu’s alignment to Jacob Zuma may perhaps be largely born of bitterness after losing out on the Transnet’s shares in MTN. His unhappiness was widely reported in the media after claiming to have “shook hands” with then Minister of Department of Trade and Industry, Alec Erwin, to seal the deal, only to learn later that the government had decided otherwise. The man is suing the government and Transnet for R8 billion. Good luck chap!

When returning from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier in 2008, Sandile Zungu, like a loyal support, penned a jaw-dropping tribute to Jacob Zuma whom he likened to the Brazilian President Lula da Silva. Zungu encouraged constructive dialogue between the new leadership collective of the ANC and organised business. Suddenly Jacob Zuma had many friends in business he never knew he had.

That Tokyo Sexwale also threw his weight behind Zuma came as no revelation. Although Sexwale has thrived under Mbeki’s economic policies, he was reported to have experienced Mbeki’s vicious corruption combat, or the “political pre-emptive strike” as The Star reported in 2007. It is alleged that President Mbeki, when still deputy president of the country, had requested that Sexwale be investigated for alleged criminal activities. These are allegations against the president that feed the frenzy of political conspiracies among Zuma’s supporters.

We all remember President Mbeki’s trusted lieutenant, the late Steve Tshwete, announcing that Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa and Matthews Phosa were hatching a plot to assassinate the president. Sexwale can be forgiven for bearing a chip on his shoulder.

Recently Jerry Vilakazi, CEO of Business Unity SA (BUSA), also insinuated to the shock of his colleagues at a political solution for the besieged president of the ANC. However, President of Busa Brian Molefe was quick to highlight the fact that, “if we have constitutional democracy with the rule of law then surely we must wait for the courts to finalise their processes. I can’t see how any politician can intervene.”

Molefe stressed that, “the interest of business is to see respect for the rule of law. Business has a long-term interest in that because you don’t want precedents to be set where matters before the courts are settled politically. You can’t do that.”

The Times reported that Busa representatives held a meeting with President Mbeki on Friday, August 29 2008, and part of the discussion revolved around the Zuma issue. The Times reports that Brian Molefe rightfully insisted that any resolution would have to be within the law.

It would not be far-fetched that the ANCYL, the Young Communist League, Cosatu, SACP and the ANC would see this meeting as organised business conniving with the President against Zuma. After all, Zuma’s supporters have been talking about a conspiracy that they had never been able to prove. This recent development presents them with ammunition to launch an offensive against the office of the President; in a ridiculous attempt to further intimidate the judiciary and the NPA into submission.

Not only has Jacob Zuma’s ascendancy to power established an unfathomable chasm between the ANC and sent it into rancid disarray and disorder; planting a regrettable seed of discord; he is now driving business leaders into making unfamiliar choices between the two warring factions. I wonder whether the author of the codes of good corporate governance took cognisance of the imperatives of political expediency in business.

Attention is being redirected from effective execution of business strategies and creating value to the shareholders to tactical political positioning which may threatened the long-term sustainability of their business. Those leaders, whose prominence in business is due to the fruits of their political credential and association with Mbeki, may soon find themselves in the business and political wilderness.

Their marriages of convenience with the established white business empires may soon prove unworkable as the object of mutual attraction and affection was only momentary. It is those with fortitude of mind and natural business savvy who would stand firmly rooted amidst the hurricane of political change.

It is principled business leaders like Brian Molefe who choose not a “path of least resistance” by advocating unconstitutional means to resolve Jacob Zuma’s legal quandary, who would become target of senseless attacks by political hooligans with the ANC. Thomas Paine stated in Common Sense (1776): “For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.” The rule of law is the foundation upon which our democracy is sustained. It is those who seek to ravage this foundation who we should condemn as counter-revolutionaries. It is Mantashe and the outlaws in the ANCYL who are hell-bent in reversing the gains of the “revolution”.

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  • Sentletse Diakanyo's blogs may contain views on any subject which may upset sensitive readers. Parental guidance is strongly advised.