To state that South Africa is spinning towards a serious crisis is not hyperbole. There are many factors causing this, including failed governance and delivery, but at its nub it is triggered by greed and powered by a ruthless determination to subvert our democracy and the mechanisms that protect it.

This is not yet the institutional unravelling on the scale of a Venezuela or a Zimbabwe, both nominally socialist, authoritarian basket cases incidentally much admired by the SA left.

We are not yet close to having to eat cats and dogs, as they are now doing in Venezuela. Or seeing our currency flushed down the loo, as is happening now in Zimbabwe. But there are dark days looming.

Confined at the moment to internecine warfare between factions of the ruling political alliance, it’s a crisis that will infect the lives of every South African if not resolved. Being apolitical is not a vaccination against the pain that lies ahead.

There could be no clearer portent of this than a cabinet minister this week calling upon the people to resist elements of the state apparatus of the very same African National Congress government that he serves.

Following on a Sunday Times report, citing unnamed sources, that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s arrest on charges of espionage was imminent, Gordhan went public with a press statement. He appealed to “all South Africans” to protect his National Treasury staff and the “key institutions” of our democracy, noting that while no one was above the law, “no one should be subjected to the manipulation of the law and agencies for ulterior motives”.

“Throughout my 45 years of activism, I have worked for the advancement of the ANC, our Constitution and our democratic government. I would never have thought that individuals within the very agencies of this government would now conspire to intimidate and harass …

“It is particularly painful … to many earnest democrats, to witness this unrestrained attack on honest and hardworking people and the institutions meant to strengthen our democracy. Millions of people will pay the price … if this subversion of democracy is left unrestrained and unchallenged.”

The Presidency dismissed the Sunday Times’ claims as the “work of dangerous information peddlers who wish to cause confusion and mayhem in the country”. But the National Prosecuting Authority has acknowledged that the Hawks had brought it a docket on the supposed “rogue unit” that the SA Revenue Service established during Gordhan’s ministerial incumbency, to investigate high-level tax offences.

Gordhan’s statement is a hand grenade lobbed into the viper pit of fractious factionalism that is today’s ANC. Depending on where it lands and whether it indeed detonates, it will crucially influence whether the process of “state capture” is halted and reversed, or whether it triumphs.

On the one side there are the marauding buccaneers. They are personified by the controversial Gupta clan that has with dizzying speed acquired enormous wealth and political power..

On the other are the beleaguered constitutionalists, the likes of Gordhan, Kgalema Motlanthe, Trevor Manuel, Ronnie Kasrils, and Ahmed Kathrada. Some have gone so far as to call upon President Jacob Zuma to resign, others cling to the belief that they can best influence events from within the administration.

There is an irony in all of this. Zuma has sailed virtually unscathed through eight years of presidency with 783 charges of fraud and corruption looming over him. Yet he appears poised to deliver the coup de grace against Gordhan on the whisper of an “espionage” charge that constitutional law fundi Professor Pierre de Vos dismisses as a “legal nonsense”, and with the Hawks’ investigation itself likely illegal.

So where does Zuma stand? Like an unctuous Pontius Pilate, he washes his hands of it all.

When recently challenged in Parliament as to whether the Guptas had, illegally, offered the finance minister’s job to deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas, as Jonas had stated, Zuma reached for the bowl, soap and flannel. “Ask Jonas or the Guptas. Don’t ask me. I have no business with that, absolutely no business.”

And similarly with Gordhan, the disengagement has been palpable. Unlike his spirited and continuing support for Des van Rooyen – whom he appointed as finance minister and then had to fire after only four days because of the public outcry over a man widely perceived to be an incompetent and a Gupta stooge – Zuma is yet to make a single public statement in support of Gordhan. That despite calls from his alliance partners, the SA Communist Party, for him to do so.

Zuma’s silence speaks volumes. It’s the quiet before the storm, a warning to batten down the hatches.

Batten the hatches and bring inside the beloved pets, too. The Venezuelans say they taste a treat when done as a delicately flavoured sauté.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • 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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