I am not encouraged, in my professional life, to be too colourful in what I write or say.

This morning I reviewed the weeklies – as I do before 06h30 every Monday morning – and found myself having to strip more metaphor and vitriol than usual from what I had to say.

For example – still right here in my clipboard, recently cut from the document I sent to clients – is this little piece of over-the-top contemptuous bitterness: “it paints a picture of an engorged elite sitting atop piles of treasure they will defend at all and any cost.”

I remember vaguely from 04h00 this morning a picture lurking somewhere in my head: there are about fifty fat dragons uncomfortably sprawled over their separate piles of loot in a disgusting, dank cave somewhere far below the smoking and ravaged surface. These beasts are  dangerously fanged in a mean, cowardly way and entirely without the pretty iridescence of most dragons I have encountered – and they hate and fear each other and anyone else who might take their stuff …

… but obviously I never went down that route.

Last Friday’s Mail & Guardian had particularly excellent – and depressing – stories about the the Nkandla looting. See here for the memorable editorial that sums up the ugly story; here for the alleged Maharaj arms deal link, here for the Gupta’s further bankrolling of the Zumas’ excessive domestic costs … and here, from the Sunday Times, a clear view of how significant public funds were diverted to the Zuma coffers and asset base, but also that much of that money did not actually arrive because it was creamed off by cronies before it even got spent on the Zuma friends and family.

The point, I think, is that the African National Congress is fast resembling sets of competing patronage networks – and little else. This is revealed in the violence and vigour in its internal contests for position. There is zero evidence of ideological division; all claims to the contrary, to my mind, are, sadly, often revealed to be false fronts: sheep’s clothing for wolves trying to sneak up on their prey.

Anyway, if it is all too exhausting and depressing to read in the original here is an extract from my morning summary:

  • The ANC nomination process draws to a chaotic and sometimes violent close – with Jacob Zuma achieving something of a Pyrrhic victory
  • Out of this might come one result welcomed by financial markets: the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as Zuma’s deputy and, hence, his (almost) automatic rise to the presidency in 2017
  • The body of the news commentary was a painful forensic tracking of the corrosive flood of money pouring over the ruling family from some worrying sources
  • The Gold Fields’ unbundling was portrayed as a straightforward vote of no-confidence in the country and its leadership – despite the clear and coherent denials by the company itself
  • The death of two much loved and respected South Africans seemed to increase the anxiety about the present and the future

ANC nominations close

City Press counts 2,256 implied votes for Zuma (slightly more than 2,251 he needs to win at Mangaung) emerging out of the nomination process. Table 1 below is what we get as a running total,  including the Leagues. (Note: the votes are ‘implicit’ from the nominations;  where branches-nominated candidates at the provincial conferences we have made the fairly safe assumption that most of these branches would vote for that candidate at the National Conference in December.)

Table 1: Zuma has it – and the 986 outstanding from Limpopo, Western Cape and Northwest is not enough to make a difference

Province/League Zuma Motlanthe
Eastern Cape 392 211
Northern Cape 160 23
Limpopo Conference delayed – violence etc.
Western Cape Conference delayed – disputes etc.
Mpumalanga 427 17
Free State 249 0
Northwest Conference delayed – shots fired etc.
Gauteng 173 238
KwazuluNatal 856 0
Women’s League 45 0
Youth League 45
Veterans league 45 0
  2307 538

So what?

Nothing much. It is going as expected – ever since the Julius Malema campaign was defanged with him (Malema) facing gradually escalating criminal charges related to his alleged ‘tenderpreneurial’ activities it was all over for the Anything But Zumas (ABZs). The interesting dynamics are in the side-lines, with the Zuma camp having backed Cyril Ramaphosa for deputy – partly because their first choice, Kgalema Motlanthe, refused to say he wouldn’t stand against Zuma for president and refused to campaign as part of any slate. Motlanthe’s meticulously principled position may get its just rewards in the fullness of time, but for now he seems to have abandoned the field to those with no qualms  about the tactics they use to secure the ever richer prizes that come with controlling the ANC patronage network.

 

Nkandla, Gupta, Duduzane, arms deal, Maharaj, Mrs Bongi  Ngema-Zuma and Baroda Bank

If anyone was wondering why the ANC battle for power is so intense and bloody, at least one major set of explanations can be found in the incredibly complex (and rich) web of transactions between those at the centre of power and various groups and companies that flood money towards them – presumably because they are such a good investment.

Headlines like: “Zuma’s Home Economics 2 – Guptas ‘bankroll’ wife’s mansion”, “Did arms firm pay Mac’s bill?” ,  “Living in the lap of luxury”, “Bankrolling their way to the top” and “Private deals that demand scrutiny” (Mail and Guardian); “Nkandla: who will take the fall?”, “Joemat-Pettersson flew back for Zuma’s wedding (at R400 000 cost to taxpayer)” (City Press); “Millions stolen from ANC Elders’ (Sunday Independent)  … and just too many more to list here.

So What? The fact that weekly, the tone and intensity of the popular press is becoming more explicitly accusatory of those within the financial web around the Zuma family, and that there has been no significant attempt by those accused of very considerable impropriety to defend themselves has, to my mind, two possible explanations. The first is that the accusations are so overblown, inaccurate and sensationalist that the Zuma family, the presidency, the Gupta family and Mac Maharaj (among a host of implicated others) expect the accusers to choke on their own excess and overstatement. The other possibility is the Zuma camp learned during its effective defence against a myriad corruption, bribery and money laundering allegations that if they can hold out long enough the prosecuting authority will eventually be forced to back off – or be replaced by new prosecutors.

“Gold Fields: who is next?” (Business Times) versus “We will not follow split” (Business Report)

The weeklies were full of anxiety about Gold Fields’ unbundling of some of its local assets – and concern that this might be the start of a wave of similar unbundling and ring-fencing. More importantly, the press was unanimous in rejecting Gold Fields’ denial that this was a vote of no-confidence in South Africa: “…it is one of the strongest votes of no-confidence in domestic investment to date. Its share price jumped 7% after Thursday’s announcement …” (Business Times).

Peter Major (Cadiz Corporate Solutions) is quoted in Business Report as saying “Soon shareholders will tell companies like AngloGold, Ashanti and Harmony Gold that if they don’t unbundle they’ll sell their interests.”

So What? The Sunday Times ran its main editorial on this issue. Saying it is clear why Gold Fields has done what it has done. “The company’s output dropped by 11% in the third quarter as the strikes took their toll. Its managers have been buffeted by unrest, uncertainty and the ever-shifting sands of policy pronouncements. On the horizon is some form of nationalisation of ‘strategic’ resources and more labour unrest as the government fails to lead the country back to the sanity of proper collective bargaining.” We can’t really fault that, although Gold Fields may have had a host of others issues to consider when it made the decision it did.

Changing the guard

The deaths of two respected South Africans who played important roles in the transition away from apartheid and towards democracy continue to raise anxiety about other impending deaths of great South African leaders and about the quality of the incumbent crew. Professor Jakes Gerwel (18 Jan 1946- 28 Nov 2012), Nelson Mandela’s first Director General (among a myriad other achievements) and Arthur Chaskelson (24 Nov 1931-1 Dec 2012) former Chief Justice and architect of much of the South Africa’s judicial system were mourned in all of the weeklies.

So what? Nelson Mandela appointed both of these men to play the crucial roles they did in the young South African democracy in the mid-1990s. It is inevitable that the popular press will hold leaders like these up against the individuals and processes overwhelming the ANC and government as we write this. As Nelson Mandela’s death moves ever closer, the anxiety about the Nkandla improprieties and the violence in the ANC’s internal contests in the lead-up to Mangaung are held up to a (perhaps) mythical standard of the past. The comparisons, fair or not, sentimental or realistic, makes the tone of much of the news and commentary in the weeklies angry, fearful and condemnatory.

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