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One has to acknowledge President Jacob Zuma as SA’s unofficial invisible man, managing to stay below the parapet while political storms rage all around him and others fight his battles for him.
Not many heads of state would have been able to say absolutely nothing while most of the country was in uproar, as it has been for weeks now, in opposition to the e-tolling of Gauteng highways.
True to form, he has also kept quiet on reports that he had a hand in the lifting of the suspension of police crime intelligence chief General Richard Mdluli, a man accused of serious crimes, but who seems to be untouchable. It’s not that our president has been in hiding or out of the country. Indeed, he has been addressing media briefings every week, but not a word about the burning issues of the day.
Perhaps this also says something about the robustness of our press or lack of it. One can’t imagine a (US President) Barack Obama or a (British Prime Minister) David Cameron not commenting on the raging debates of the day. The press would not allow them to get away with it.
While the Mdluli matter would have dealt yet another blow to the public’s already low confidence in the police as a clean service able to do its job without fear or favour, it is the e-tolling fiasco that could prove devastating for the country’s economic prospects in the long term.
And it has again raised serious questions about who exactly is in charge of the country. Is it those in the government, who are constitutionally charged with this responsibility? Or is the ANC-alliance calling the shots?
This question is pertinent because it was a Cosatu spokesman – not a government minister – who two weeks ago was the first to inform the public that the union and the ANC had agreed that e-tolling would be put on hold. This announcement was made while the government’s lawyers were still arguing in court for the implementation of the system on April 30.
Whether one agrees with e-tolling or not is neither here nor there. This is about the political leadership – or lack of it – of the country. Now what is an investor to make of how government decisions are made in this country? Can he believe a government minister’s word when he gives an undertaking when it has been proved it is possible such an undertaking could be reversed by an unelected union or ruling party official?
Again this is not an argument for e-tolling – your scribe is in fact opposed to it – but it is relevant that ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service has again downgraded the credit rating of the company responsible for e-tolling, the government-owned SA National Road Agency. This will make the agency’s ability to borrow from financial markets more expensive.
The rating agency’s decision follows a couple of downgrades for the country by most of the reputable ratings agencies who have cited political risk as the main reason. Their common view is that this government does not have the stomach to take unpopular, but necessary, decisions for our long term economic viability.
One has to look at Zuma for the decline in the regard in which we are held by these agencies and investors. He is supposed to provide the leadership and political will to take the tough decisions that are necessary to keep the country’s economy on course.
Unfortunately he seems to favour sitting on his hands and watching the direction of the winds when the big calls have to be made.
In the year he is up for re-election as president of the ANC – which would guarantee him a second term as head of state in 2014 – his pre-dilection for sitting on the fence is unlikely to change. He cannot afford to rock the alliance boat and would want to be all things to all men in the big ANC tent. A pity for our country.