South African Buzz: Zuma, the financial guru

Zuma, the Great Survivor, has survived near misses before, and he will still be with us in 2016.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (photo credit: REUTERS)
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the first week of December, the sixth Conference of the Forum on Chinese-African Cooperation (FOCAC) was held in Sandton, a municipality to the north of Johannesburg that is commonly called “the richest square mile in Africa.”
The Johannesburg English-language newspaper The Star went into a frenzy of welcoming joy with a huge banner headline “WELCOME TO SOUTH AFRICA,” and with a photo captioned, “President Jacob Zuma Opens Summit Aimed at Creating a Better Life for All.” Spread across half of the front page was a color picture of Zuma speaking at the Fifth Ministerial Conference in Beijing 2012. A quarter of the front page was in Chinese script that not many people in Johannesburg, I imagine, could read.
More than 50 African heads of state attended. The Star gushed, “The historic hosting for the first time on African soil is yet another high-profile event that South Africa is privileged to host on behalf of Africa.”
Established in 2012, FOCAC is “an important platform for collective dialogue and an effective mechanism for enhancing practical cooperation between China and African nations.”
The Chinese delegation was led by their president, Xi Jinping. Many agreements were reached. China would contribute $60 million into Africa in the next three years.
There would be a zero-percent-interest loan with grants for education, debt relief, $5 billion would go to a China - Africa Development Fund and 200 000 technical personnel would be trained by skilled Chinese in Africa.
Zuma commented, “We have every reason to be upbeat about the future. The relationship between China and Africa has been taken to its highest level.”
Some people, however, were critical. The words “new colonialism” were bandied about. Xi Jinping was said to have imitated Julius Caesar after his invasion of Britain: “Veni, vidi, vinci!” (I came, I saw, I conquered).
If Xi Jinping was happy, Zuma was high jumping! Events are happening quickly here in South Africa. It all started with Zuma suddenly announcing that the capable minister of finance was to be “removed.” He had been in office for 18 months and had bravely, but ineffectively, tried to control the government’s wild spending and raids on the treasury.
A number of government and para-state organizations are involved in financial mishaps. The Electricity Supply Commission has been implicated in “load shedding,” controlled blackouts and power cutting. South African Airways, deeply in debt, is asking the government for another cash bailout, having ordered 20 new Airbus aircraft with no idea how to pay for them. The South African Postal Service, beset by strikes, is virtually paralyzed. Letters and parcels take ages to arrive, so if you get a letter in the post, bless your luck! The South African Broadcast Corporation is in total chaos; the man in charge faked his matriculation certificate, yet after an inquiry, it was decided that it did not matter, and he kept his job. Then Zuma, going off to Russia, was photographed with President Putin, committing South Africa to a nuclear deal that is beyond the country’s ability to afford.
Corruption? Strikes? Crime? Among the latest is that the former minister of transport, S’bu N’debele, appeared this week in the Durban Commercial Crime Court for having pocketed 10m. rands in commissions and kickbacks relating to contracts rewarded before the 2010 football World Cup constructions. No fear, the case has been postponed until July 2016; plenty of time for dockets to go missing.
Zuma announced that former finance minister Nene was being made head of the South African Section of Brics – the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa future financial conglomerate that will knock the US dollar out of action. Supposedly. Hopefully. Never mind that Brazil is in meltdown – and is South Africa far behind? It has been estimated that Zuma’s fiddling with the finance ministry has so far cost South Africa 171b. rands! Zuma appointed a virtually unknown person, David van Rooyen, to be the new finance minister, and then four days later van Rooyen was “removed” to the obscure post of cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister. He was lucky not to be made ambassador to Outer Mongolia! December 16 was a public holiday here – the Day of Reconciliation.
Thousands of people took to the streets around the country in protest, with banners reading “#Zuma Must Fall.” The hashtag icon has gone viral.
Zuma next recalled Pravin Gordham, a former finance minister who served there for five years. (Why did he leave, people wondered.) Significantly, the Nene move to Brics was never mentioned again.
The effect of Zuma’s interference sent the rand into free fall. It sunk to a record low against the US dollar: nearly 16 rand to a dollar. South Africa’s credit rating was cut to negative by the US investor service Moody’s. The country’s gross debt soared up to 50 percent of the gross domestic product. As expected, the local Federal Reserve upped interest rates here.
The top leadership of the African National Congress, Zuma’s party, warned Zuma that his meddling in the affairs of the Finance Ministry was catastrophic. It was due to their pressure that Zuma was forced to recall Gordham.
Afterwards, even though the ANC top leadership denied that there was tension in the party, and that Zuma had rectified the situation, rumors to the contrary and questions persist. What has happened to Zuma’s desire for a presidential jet costing 4m. rand? Was the chairwoman of SA Airways, Dudu Myeni, protected by Zuma in the debris of the abortive Airbus deal? There is no end in sight to the string of debacles, but with the festive season upon us, all will probably be quiet for a while on the southern front.
Zuma, the Great Survivor, has survived near misses before, and he will still be with us in 2016.