Peter Bruce |18 December 2015 | Business Day
I REMEMBER years ago watching the charismatic Spanish socialist party leader Felipe Gonzalez addressing a huge election rally in Barcelona. He was wearing jeans, a white shirt and a leather bomber jacket, his “uniform” during years of exile while Francisco Franco was in power.
The socialists, in alliance with the general workers’ union and with the support of the Spanish communist party — which at least had the courage to stand in elections — had been running the country for almost 10 years.
Gonzalez started slowly, recalling how far democracy had run in Spain in such a short time. Then, to a roar of approval, he took off his leather jacket and threw it to the floor. Now for the real stuff! Don’t let the fascists back, they’re gathering their forces, they’ll divide the country again….
The socialists won that election. Little wonder. Franco had imposed a fierce dictatorship on Spain for more than 40 years, as long as the Nationalists ruled in SA. Republicans, the losers in the Spanish civil war, were cruelly treated. Republican villages were starved of infrastructure, Republican families couldn’t get places in the public service or in good universities.
In early elections after Franco died in 1975 the socialist-led alliance demolished the remnants of Franco’s old party.
Obviously the discrimination of colonialism and apartheid were of a different order, though Franco killed many thousands of Republican prisoners of war. But at least Republicans had chosen to be what they were. You don’t get to pick the colour of your skin.
Still, parallels with Spain are sometimes stark. Gonzalez removing his jacket was Jacob Zuma singing and dancing. The socialists were able to milk fascism for years. Eventually they were voted out of power by people who had had no experience of it and who were sickened by its corruption.
And Spain was saved from itself when it joined what is now the European Union (EU). Funds from the EU poured into Spain in a way we cannot imagine here. Employment could sometimes grow by 5,000 people a day. Property prices in once poor villages ballooned and peasant farmers grew fat supplying the retail chains of the UK, France and Germany.
There’s no doubt that faster economic growth would soften our divisions in SA. This is why what Zuma did last week is so distressing. Through a combination of neglect, ignorance and arrogance he calculated he could make an appalling economic decision and get away with it.
He had no idea of the consequences because he hasn’t bothered to understand how his own economy works. Its essence isn’t that whites are richer. Its essence is that it cannot change, transform, or grow without investment. And he has dealt investment a crippling blow. Every citizen, rich or poor, black or white, young or old, is a victim. And he did it on his own.
What could he possibly have been thinking? Obviously, he was thinking of himself and the bloodsucking business cronies, traditional leaders and personal friends with whom he shares relationships of mutual benefit.
It didn’t attract much attention during the chaos of last week but it emerged that a source that South African Airways chair and Zuma attendant Dudu Myeni had tapped to attract financial support for her foolish scheme to lease Airbus A330s was the Free State development agency. The Zuma patronage circle looks after its own.
But there is no possible explanation that could rationally justify a decision so stupefyingly ignorant as the sacking of Nhlanhla Nene. Happily, Zuma is now damaged goods. He no longer has the power to dictate his own succession.
His putative replacement to Nene, Des van Rooyen, had barely had time to say more than he would make the Treasury “more accessible” (no doubt to the people alluded to above) before he was shafted and replaced with Pravin Gordhan who, in turn, has returned to the Treasury like a man possessed.
He cannot now be fired. He will engineer changes at the South African Revenue Service and heaven help anyone who has damaged him during his brief period away from Treasury. The cronies will feel it, for sure.
So that is at least good. What isn’t are the numbers. All of our lives will shrink. Do yourself a favour: go to a retailer today and write down the prices of a loaf of sliced white bread (R14.79 at my local Spar), a 2-litre bottle of milk (R29.99) and a 400g tin of baby formula (R46.99).
Measure them in exactly one year’s time and you’ll get an inkling of what Zuma has done to you if you are on R3,500 a month.
It is also not good that, while Zuma’s sabotage briefly united everyone, our tedious racial divisions quickly emerged around the issue. Marches on Wednesday calling for Zuma’s removal were reasonably mixed, racially, but not well enough.
The African National Congress made much of the number of whites in the crowds and Zuma, with the help of the white Right, will too. The damage to him may not be terminal and he is ruthless when cornered.
And it’s not good that, when the chips were down the sector with the most at stake, big business, curled up under the table. A statement by Business Leadership SA (BLSA), which represents the bulk of corporate tax paid in SA, was absolutely wretched.
In the Sunday Times, after two days of carnage, it said “…the replacement of an effective and trusted finance minister just 18 months into his term of office has raised doubts about our ability to maintain prudent macro-economic policies”.
Doubts? Whose doubts? BLSA chairman Bobby Godsell and CEO Thero Setiloane didn’t even have the courage to say our doubts. In the middle of a crisis that could have shut SA down (as some bank chiefs were able to convince Jeff Radebe and Zweli Mkhize ahead of Zuma’s U-turn) BLSA forfeited its right to speak for anyone. At almost 3pm on the Sunday the BLSA leadership had scrambled together more respectable and they emailed a new and tougher statement to the newspapers for Monday. But the moment had been lost. The first instinct, the one that reveals you, was to apologise for perhaps having just a teensy little point to make. I have spent years trying to make the case for business in SA. Both these gentlemen should pack up and leave.
The appropriate business response was, instead, contained in an open letter to Zuma in City Press in the wake of Van Rooyen’s appointment and signed by, among others, Reuel Khoza and Shell SA chair Bonang Mohale.
They wrote that “the damage this is causing to the credibility of the country may take years or even decades to reverse … we are gravely concerned about the manner in which you are governing us.”
Now that’s how you talk to a saboteur. Have a safe holiday — 2016 will test us all.