We may be in for another markets’ earthquake.
Nicky Smith and Carol Paton report that President Zuma “has refused [Finance Minister] Mr Gordhan’s suggestions for a new chairman, insisting that Ms Myeni, his close friend, be retained.” But would he pry SAA out from Gordhan’s grip, to keep it looting-friendly for Dudu Myeni? Speculations are rife that he would.
SAA was with Public Enterprises when Malusi Gigaba was its Minister. Gigaba was set to deal with Myeni (and Advocate Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, among others) but the President changed him from that portfolio to Home Affairs in a post-election cabinet shuffle. Gigaba would probably deny this narrative. No matter: his replacement, Lynne Browne, inherited many of his issues with the SAA Board Chair. The President moved SAA from Browne’s Public Enterprises Portfolio to National Treasury – “because most of its problems are financial,” as members of Cabinet explained – and this had the effect of shielding Myeni.
When Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, blocked Myeni’s Airbus deal and speculation arose that he was about to discharge her, the President dismissed him as Minister for a BRICS-Bank job (dololo, BRICS-Bank job) and replaced him with David “Weekend Special” van Rooyen and two Gupta-given sidekicks (who were rumoured to have been given full ministerial signing powers). Being unknown, van Rooyen was replaced by Gordhan, who works today with many a Sword of Damocles hanging over his head – the Denel Board of Directors, SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane and MP Sfiso Buthelezi, who is believed by some to be waiting in line for Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas’s job, all Zuma’s thorns in Gordha’s flesh. The relationship between Gordhan and Zuma is fascinating to watch: never have two people needed and unneeded each other this much at the same time.
If you’ve flown SAA recently, you may have had the mis/fortune of reading in-flight magazine Sawubona’s Letter from the Chairperson (which was meant to be the CEO’s soapbox, but Myeni is Zuma’s special friend) where she waxes lyrical about the need to “transform” SAA’s supplier base – in order words, to use unknown third-party suppliers for shady deals. We shouldn’t be surprised by her outbursts last weekend. SABC’s Tshepo Ikaneng’s reported that Myeni had “accused some senior executives of derailing her plans to transform the airline”:
“The issue of racism is very rife at SAA. When you speak out you get victimized. This company will continue to operate without government guarantees,” without which, SAA is no longer a going concern, and which have been withheld by Treasury pending the change of Board.
Myeni’s self-defence is summarized in one succinct explanation: “We are dealing with issues of racism.”
The damsel in distress cried “Racism!”, a word that understandably always gets a rise in South Africa. Ever the “listening president”, Zuma will swoop in to the rescue; he’s so far said he’d get “closer” to SAA because (get this, Reader) National Treasury had not solved SAA’s problems.
Imagine that. Conveniently blame an entire ministry for the choices made by the one person you refused to release, and then pull the loot-cow that is SAA to your own bosom.
Imagine what Zuma thinks that would mean for him, if he truly is considering it. No more interfering ministers. No more scouting parliamentarian ranks for loyal ANC MPs unburdened by conscience or shame. No more EFF press briefings or Gupta bribe scandals. No more anything with a name ending with -gate.
Goodbye to Vytjie Mentor’s timed-release killing-me-softly Facebook grenade statuses. Zuma has already said goodbye to journalists snooping around the Gupta Saxonwold compound, trying to prove what everyone suspects.
It would be the end of drama in President Zuma’s life; a stunt so daring it would seem like divine intervention, like Jesus returning to rapture Luthuli House and its satellite tentacles in the State, off to the heavenly bliss of uninterrupted looting while the rest of us – “Left B”ehind in a perishing junk-status credit-rated economy – wonder what the hell hit us. Unless he decides the fallout will be too great and ices that idea.
I already see the tweets out there. “Thuli Madonsela must investigate!” Interestingly, there was, in this maelstrom of corruption, a fraud case logged against SAA. One of its boardmembers at the time, Advocate Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, doctored a document with Head of Legal’s opinion on it. It was believed this fraudulent act was committed to protect a line of people leading up to Dudu Myeni and beyond her, President Zuma. According to several versions of the story by journalist Amanda Khoza, SAA asked the Office of the Public Protector to put that investigation on hold. The Office agreed, and to this day, has not released the report.
Now, everybody has seen from the Mabel Jansen story that it’s very difficult to bring a judge to justice. Jansen’s off-colour comments, made both in public and private online platforms, were initially not enough to unseat her, though complaints had been made against her. It was only when Gillian Scutte went public with the judge’s views on black people that disciplinary steps began in earnest with the JSC.
The same is also true for advocates like Lindi Nkosi-Thomas (who, incidentally, has also acted as a High Court Judge). Nkosi-Thomas was made infamous by her excruciating defence of National Assembly’s failure to constitutionally hold the President accountable on the Public Protector’s Nkandla Report. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has “acted in various litigious matters of national importance and has advised various SOC’s and the Government of the Republic of South Africa on numerous litigious matters and transactions of considerable scale.” And she has the connections to show for it.
It’s easy to believe that Nkosi-Thomas was not investigated because the investigators are all her buddies – right through to probable moles in the Public Protector’s Office, the NPA that declined to prosecute, the SAPS Commercial Crimes unit that declined to investigate, and the Johannesburg Bar Council that declined to find wrong in her altering a document whose source was very much disturbed by the new meaning. I’m not creating this theory: the SowetanLive commenters on Khoza’s article have insinuated as much. One easy way to end this rampant speculation is to ask the Public Protector’s Office why the report on SAA hasn’t been released – as many journalists have asked in the last three years.
The battle over SAA and its attendant swapping of ministers has easily cost the country half a trillion rand. That money can’t be paid back to the Fiscus the way the #Nkandla money can be because it was never in government’s pocket. The citizens’ loss was direct. By retaining Jacob Zuma, the ANC is making South Africans pay to be robbed, and we’re paying in rising food prices and many other costs in the aftermath of a drought.
Then there’s the Gupta family. The EFF alleges they were waiting for this criminality to play out until state-owned enterprises like SAA were so ruined government would accept whatever the Guptas would offer for them. Mentor was offered the Public Enterprises portfolio provided she drop SAA’s route to India and let Gupta-linked Jet Airways take it up. It has been said that the best way to slow a PP Office’s report on State-related corruption is to have the Guptas as its ultimate beneficiaries; this is probably why we’re still waiting for feedback on Gupta-linked farm that milks Free State coffers.
Now, someone would argue that the Public Protector’s Office is swamped with requests to investigate a burgeoning number of maladministration cases (it is) or that Thuli Madonsela herself wouldn’t allow fear or favour to colour how she investigates (she very much strikes me as a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person). The truth is, we don’t have full knowledge of how the PP’s Office prioritizes cases. But some are just obviously more urgent than others.
I’m not encouraging needless cynicism or anarchy; I’m simply restating what I’ve consistently said on this blog: as long as we give the impression of revolting and protesting against corruption, the government will give us the impression that there’s a light at the end of a tunnel we gave them control over. The Public Protector’s Office has been described as “as the public complaints body of last resort.” Again, this keeps alive the impression that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That the system works now and then doesn’t take away from the possibility that it only works enough times to give the illusion of continuous functionality, but not enough times to fundamentally change the status quo. Imali iya emalini. To money, money goes; to power, power goes.
We must be careful, then, that we don’t let elections be another end of a 5-year-long tunnel. We must do a better job of holding our government accountable by shaking them up in ways they don’t expect from us seemingly complacent tax-payers.
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