Nyaaaaah. So the President has sacked his Finance Minister. Big, fat, hairy deal. Presidents sack Finance Ministers all the time, don’t they?
Well, not really, comes the refrain. Finance Ministers are frontline soldiers in the global war against the working class. Sacking your Finance Minister is like sacking your boss general in wartime. The French did that in May 1940, when they fired General Gamelin for losing the Battle of Sedan and brought in General Weygand, who proceeded to lose all of northern France, Paris and Bordeaux, after which he blamed the politicians and handed power over to the French Fascists who set up a Commission of Inquiry which exonerated them and explained that France had been stabbed in the back by Communists, Jews and Freemasons, who were all handed over to the Nazi occupiers as soon as convenient.
Um, maybe that’s not a very comforting analogy.
What did Nhlanhla Nene do wrong? Not really anything much — in fact, Nene hasn’t done anything. He was made Deputy Minister after Manuel was purged, when Gordhan was dragged out of SARS and shoved into Finance. When Gordhan, after half a decade of comprehensive failure, was kicked sideways into Local Government (where he has made a dog’s breakfast) Nene rose without trace into Gordhan’s ballet-boots. Of course he has presided over the decline of the economy. Five years of declining economy gradually erased all the accomplishments of the previous ten years.
But, as Dali Mpofu of the EFF observed, this isn’t simply Nene’s fault, or Gordhan’s either. Of course, as neoliberals and agents of the ruling plutocracy, they are complicit in the immiseration of South Africans and the degeneration of our economy. However, because the government and the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance are in league with the local and global ruling class in pursuing policies which further those objectives, nothing else can be expected. As Mpofu happily said, you could appoint Jesus Christ as Finance Minister and you’d get the same result; the moneylenders would still be in full control of the temple.
So there isn’t an obvious logical reason related to Nene’s performance which accounts for his dismissal. Nor does his “redeployment” to the South African branch of the BRICS Development Bank make any real sense; the South Africans are an insignificant element of the Bank even though it is based in South Africa, and there were already quite enough competent people involved in it. So there must be some other reason, and since Zuma hasn’t bothered to invent a plausible one, speculation is, as the saying goes, rife. (What else is rife? As the Chinese would say, rife is for the riving.)
One logical conclusion is that it’s all about Dudu Myeni, Zuma’s lass at South African Airways. (It is claimed that she’s his mistress, because newspapers need to be sold.) Apparently Nene refused to recapitalise SAA again (as it has been recapitalised so often before). So naturally the argument is that Zuma fired Nene because Nene was nasty to his chick.
Now, obviously this is possible. Myeni appears to be a strikingly incompetent person to run SAA and is certainly not the right person to run the airline. On the other hand, she is clearly not the only person to have run the airline into the ground. So why particularly focus on her? Is there any other reason why certain people, especially in the corporate-owned media, should want to attack her stewardship of SAA at this particular time? Obviously there is; there is a concerted campaign to call for the privatization of SAA. The incompetent management of SAA is not essential to SAA; it is a product of the distortion of South African politics and economics by Zuma and his cronies. However, by pretending that nothing more can be done to save SAA, it is possible to claim that the only solution is privatization – which will probably be for asset-stripping purposes and thus will make a lot of money for the patrons of the corporate media, as well as setting a promising precedent for the profitable privatization of other state-owned enterprises. Yippee!
Now, Nene has been quite emphatic about not being willing to offer SAA money. This is fair enough, so long as Nene was saying that the Treasury was not willing to do this without a sensible business plan administered by a person who could handle the task. Not really hard to envisage. (Actually a little hard to envisage under the current climate – airlines are in fairly desperate circumstances and the South African economy is in the proverbial tailspin anyway.) But there’s no real sign that he was going to make such conditions, so presumably Nene was in league with whoever wants to privatise SAA. Maybe not a bad thing. Maybe even a good idea. But violently opposed to government policy, like his hostility to the nuclear deal (which was opposed by the ruling class before it was even arranged, let alone decided on.) In other words, it seems likely that Nene was trying to use his position to shove Zuma even further to the right than he has already moved – which surely helps to explain why the ruling-class media and propagandists generally responded with such preposterous outrage to Nene’s removal, and why they panicked when someone unknown was brought in, fearing that Zuma was about to nationalize everything, impose exchange controls and Africanise the economy.
He won’t ever do that, but that won’t stop the right-wing loonies who dominate debate on economic matters from shitting their breeches. Therefore they set up a vast clamour that the economy was declining too fast — apparently if the value of the currency, and the value of the stock exchange, and the rate of economic growth, and the rate of employment, all decline steadily, that’s a good thing; the Bad Thing is when it all happens so fast that even the middle class notices it.
What this did, of course, was to telegraph to the speculators all over the planet that the South African economy was vulnerable, and therefore to announce that those speculators could make some money by betting against it, and in doing so they precipitated the collapse of the rand, a massive spike in bond interest rates (because to keep people holding South African bonds they have to be bribed with higher returns) and a general financial panic in the country. This was Zuma’s fault, of course, but it was also the fault of the system which permits this to happen — but since the right-wing loonies who precipitated the crisis are totally invested in preserving the system, this will never be mentioned.
So Zuma, with the cowardice with which he has consistently performed in government, sacked the nonentity with which he had replaced Nene. Of course, he couldn’t put Nene back, for that would be to declare that what he had done was utterly wrong. Therefore he brought Gordhan back, and the economy immediately went into another nosedive while the media sang hosannas about how the economy was now booming thanks to this safe pair of hands on the tiller. If you were writing a fantasy about an utterly corrupt society where nobody had any integrity and no action was ever taken for altruistic motives while nobody told the truth under any circumstances except by accident, you would be depicting what was happening in this horrible case. Since Nene’s replacement couldn’t simply be turfed out of the Cabinet, he was sent to replace Gordhan in Local Government — a field in which he has at least some experience and a track record (though, alas, not a good one).
Does any of this matter, really? Isn’t Mpofu’s point still valid? Indeed it is; the ruling class is determined to keep ruling, and it rules because it wants to make a truckload of money. Gordhan and Nene’s job was to keep on making them that money, and they will continue to do so regardless of what happens to the economic indicators, up to and until the point at which the economy implodes, which will probably take several years. Zuma had to back down because he was interfering with the interests of the ruling class, or at least they could pretend that he was. However, now that the ruling class has pointed out to its friends all over the world that the South African economy is vulnerable and will not be protected, we can expect our economy to decline much more rapidly.
This is, of course, partly Zuma’s fault, but we shouldn’t forget that Zuma is only the patsy here; the real incompetence is the incompetence of the ruling class who are trying to game the system (including trying to replace Zuma with someone even less competent and more subordinate) and are, more or less by accident, finding themselves obliged to ruin our country.