The long awaited cabinet reshuffle has finally happened. Almost a third of the ministers have been laid off. This is unprecedented. Its rationale according to the president is to promote efficiency and bring about a better life for all South Africans. But what is even more important is the genesis and pathology of this cabinet shake-up. At the funeral of the late Uncle Kathy, as he was commonly called, former Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe recalled the words of the now famous letter by Uncle Kathy in which he reminded President Zuma that ‘’The position of President is one that must at all times unite this country behind a vision and programme that seeks to make tomorrow a better day than today for all South Africans. It is a position that requires the respect of all South Africans, which of course must be earned at all time’’.
The antithesis of this invocation is even more telling. It is the responsibility of the president not to consciously do anything that will promote anxiety and fear among the citizens. He must be ‘’the embodiment of the Constitution’’ that gives hope to all South Africans that conditions shall be created by government that will provide equitable opportunity for self-expression and development for all.
Yet, we are faced with a situation where the president, for the second time, has made a reckless and irrational decision to torpedo efforts aimed at promoting confidence and trust among our foreign lenders and development partners that we are on course to maintain stability in our political economy and predictability in our policy landscape. What is fundamentally disturbing is that the first disruption of the economy by the president in December 2015 in what is now known as ‘’Nenegate’’ was justified on patent untruths. What followed was a meltdown and the Rand went into a free fall. We are informed that the ‘’Top Six’’ in the governing ANC put the president under caution that he would not make decisions that will undermine the stability of the political economy.
What is bewildering this time around, according to Mantashe, the Secretary General of the ANC, is that the reshuffle was effected despite opposition from the ANC ‘’TOP Six’’. We are informed that the motivation for this drastic action was triggered by a doubtful “intelligence report” claiming that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was at the centre of a plot to turn international bankers against the president. Again the efforts of ‘’Team SA’’ aimed at promoting confidence and trust among our investors were torpedoed by the president on the basis of an untruth.
The president has with a straight face justified his decision on the basis of an effort to improve performance and ensure that the state can deliver to make a better life for all. If this was indeed true, then at least four under-performing ministers should have been fired as well. Bathabile Dlamini should have topped the list after her incompetence was confirmed by the Chief Justice.
What is patently clear is that the driving motivation for the reshuffle was to remove Pravin Gordhan from the finance portfolio. The other changes are merely intended to shift attention from the main purpose. The outcome is also patently clear. The economy will certainly go into a free fall and a ratings downgrade is now almost a certainty. The harm that is certain to follow this irrational decision by the president is certainly inconsistent with his obligations as expressed in the Constitution.
It is the responsibility of the government, and especially the president, to lead a co-ordinated effort to protect this commodity at all times by leading a stable political economy. The irony is that he has been leading an effort, for more than twelve months now, that has brought business partners on board, to work with government, to plan and do everything necessary to assure our investment partners and the rating agencies that we are on course to positively address our growth challenges and ensure the stability of our political economy.
In the 21st century world of instant communication and free movement of capital across borders at the push of a button, the ability for democratic governments to maintain political stability and a positive investment climate that can attract investment that creates economic growth is the biggest challenge. In the case of SA with a low savings rate; a declining business confidence index (at 90.3 it is the lowest since 1985); extraordinary and structurally high and growing unemployment; racialized wealth inequality (10% of the population owns 95% of the wealth); a labour participation rate that is at least 20% lower than competitor countries; and a youth population that is at least 57% of the unemployed; a stable and positive investment climate is a priceless commodity.
The legacy of our apartheid past has imposed an inordinately binding responsibility on the democratic government to ensure that we put in place a capable state with competent leadership at all levels to deliver equitably and effectively to all the people of South Africa as articulated in our Constitution. This administration has failed spectacularly to achieve a semblance of a capable state as anticipated in the NDP. The cabinet changes have finally undermined all hope of building strong foundations for a capable state because the most under-performing ministers have been retained. Failure is everywhere. Our biggest SOE’s are centres of unmitigated looting. ESKOM dishes out numbing evidence of looting almost on a weekly basis.
For the ANC, the brand promise that managed to secure the massive support it gained in the 1994 elections was framed around the main theme of building a non-racial democracy underpinned by fundamental human rights that are entrenched in the constitution. Mandela as a leader came to represent and project the values of the ANC brand that the people embraced. But much of what the Mandela generation was respected for has been lost. The internal factional battles that are fragmenting the party are a clear indication that the historical guiding principle of service for the people has been supplanted by a new value system that puts self-interest at the centre.
These factional wars are in reality proxy wars that are being waged on behalf of external interest groups that are hell bent on winning influence on the critical elements of the ruling party through patronage. But they also represent the failure of the party to understand the pressing needs of the population and respond with a strategy that articulates an overarching and shared vision for the future that can transform our society, eliminate inequality and promote stability. Faced with these challenges and a party leadership that is clearly losing the confidence of the people and failing to bring stability to the party in the context of a dynamic and increasingly competitive political environment, a creative implosion of the party seems unavoidable.
The task of reinventing the organization and repositioning its brand will be very disruptive and challenging. But it cannot succeed without a comprehensive leadership overhaul. What we have seen in the country-wide “Zuma must Fall” demonstrations is unprecedented. The masses have made their statement and more seems to be on the way. The ANC has reached the cross roads and cannot use shortcuts to reflect on the current challenges and reinvent itself in order to reconnect with its supporters.