In the corridors of power, where decisions shape the destiny of nations, one man has emerged as front runner for the dubious honour of being the architect of South Africa’s economic chaos – Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, at whose hands the country’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have all but collapsed.
In a young and emerging democracy, SOEs should play vital roles, such as contributing significantly to gross domestic product providing jobs, and supplying essential services to ensure the economic participation and inclusion of the people and businesses at all stages of the value creation chain.
Instead, there has been a systematic breakdown of almost every SOE in this country, to the point where privatisation becomes the only solution – but then, perhaps that is the end game after all? With our road, rail, shipping air and power networks in the hands of private business, they get to charge what they like and effectively control South Africa …
Gordhan, who appointed two of the most incompetent CEOs in SOE history, has managed to escape the scrutiny that any other public servant would face till now, although the shine on his crown is beginning to dim. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have been fired by now, or forced to resign, so what or who shields him from accountability?
Gordhan’s tenure as finance minister witnessed the approval of capital flight amounting to almost $200 billion (R3.7 trillion), including the notorious Steinhoff scandal. The rand has also suffered a 25% devaluation, yet he remains in a position of power. What makes him so untouchable?
Some argue that his support lies with the DA rather than the ANC. His alleged ties to an alleged “rogue unit” at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and rumoured leverage over ANC members may explain part of his political survival.
However, Gordhan’s influence reaches its zenith through his connection with President Cyril Ramaphosa. Riding on his opposition to former President Zuma and the Gupta family, Gordhan emerged as a darling of the press and a symbol of resistance. However, his 5-year tenure has not delivered on the promises of job creation, Eskom’s recovery, or rand stabilisation. Quite the reverse, in fact.
Instead, Gordhan has swiftly removed black professionals, conveniently labelling them as Gupta associates, and filled key positions with those he deemed loyal.
Under Gordhan’s watch, the appointment of Portia Derby as the head of Transnet exemplifies his questionable judgment. Derby, with no significant management experience, has overseen a purge of talent and a collapse of Transnet. Similarly, Eskom’s woes are blamed on an incompetent CEO, deflecting attention from Gordhan’s role in these disastrous appointments.
Behind the scenes, Gordhan and his cabal are engaged in a silent war for the economic soul of South Africa.
With the upcoming elections potentially threatening the ANC’s grip on power, some speculate that losing power might be part of the plan. This strategy could allow the ANC to rid itself of both the Gordhan/Ramaphosa faction and the Zuma/Gupta faction, creating an opportunity for the party’s reconstruction and resurgence.
As South Africa faces a potential power shift, the aftermath may involve a dangerous backlash. The economic elite, with their wealth safely stashed offshore, may escape unscathed, leaving ordinary citizens to deal with the fallout of this political chess game.
The Gordhan legacy reveals a darker side of South African politics, appearing to show that individual economic interests take precedence over the well-being of the people.
The upcoming elections could mark a turning point, but the question remains: will the ANC, and South Africa, emerge stronger or succumb to the legacy of questionable leadership and economic manipulation? There is no more time left to tell, as the reckoning is here.
Adri Senekal de Wet is the executive editor of Business Report.