Bruce’s List: A daily guide to informed reads.
So it’s crunch time. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan will either present his medium-term budget policy statement on October 26 or not. Yesterday he was summonsed to court on November 2 on a blatantly spurious and politically motivated charge of fraud by an already hopelessly compromised National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Its head, Shaun Abrahams, bumbled his way through a press conference yesterday trying to sound like a leader but coming off more like an oik. When he tried to sound Churchillian “the days of disrespecting the NPA are over” no-one but the staffers behind him believed him. This morning the disrespect for the NPA is deeper than ever. Abrahams is a puppet who claims he wasn’t interfered with politically — that’s because by the time he became head of the NPA no-one any longer had to interfere with him. He knows his job. Why else would he be pursuing Gordhan and not Jacob Zuma?
Clearly, the fraud charge against Gordhan — for authorising, as finance minister in 2010, an early pension pay-out to a senior colleague, Ivan Pillay — will fail, for reasons you’ll discover as you read through this column. When it does, Abrahams will appeal and fail in that too. Then he’ll charge Gordhan over the SA Revenue Service (Sars) “rogue unit”. It’s called prosecution creep. Keep the minister on the ropes.
And why doesn’t Zuma simply fire Gordhan? Because he is frightened and weak. He is not sure that he would survive the consequences. Unfortunately this will all take time so don’t expect the pressure we (and Gordhan) all live under to lift soon. Ray Hartley, editor of the Rand Daily Mail digital publication has, lucky us, started writing his own commentary now that he has found some time and, yesterday, penned this neat summary of what it all means. He leaves out the fluff and gets to the heart of this, as does Judith February a little later on: POLITICS LIVE: Inside the ANC, the battle lines are already drawn.
And UCT law professor Pierre de Vos, who we should all read, easily nails Abrahams’ ridiculous charge here. What Gordhan did was perfectly defensible. This is a magnificent analysis of the law: Gordhan: Is there any case to answer? Perhaps even better, the ever enterprising Alec Hogg got his hands on the government employees pension fund handbook yesterday and turned to the section on early retirement. Abrahams will wish he had done that little bit of extra reading too. In Hogg’s piece he publishes the relevant page from the handbook and it quite clearly says that in the event of early retirement an employee can receive his or her full pension entitlement to that point and that the employer would pay a penalty into the pension fund. Court over, I reckon, in about 30 minutes. Read this, it’s priceless: Proof (in pictures) that NPA charges against Gordhan trumped-up, political.
The Gordhan story is the second front page lead in the Financial Times today and nicely done too: Gordhan summons unleashes fresh uncertainty for South Africa. And as Judith February argues in Daily Maverick, the ANC either gets rid of Zuma (unlikely) or goes down the tubes (highly likely): Vintage Zuma. The editorial in Business Day probably gets the timing right. This nonsense will go on until the ANC’s elective congress in December next year. Zuma will not be retained but I often ask myself whether his former wife and “his” successor candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, would seriously want this job. Here’s the editorial: EDITORIAL: Captured prosecutors.
Meanwhile, in not unrelated news, energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has bowed to the inevitable and conceded full authority over the build, management and procurement of a new fleet of nuclear reactors to Eskom. It is a huge victory for Brian Molefe and partly explains why, when he visited Eskom’s headquarters a few months ago, Zuma was so excited he raised his arms in the air and shouted “we’ve won, we’ve won” to the assembled onlookers. He really meant it. The decision removes proper political oversight, and any possibility of public participation in the decisions, over a procurement process that will cost at least R500bn. Eskom will make that money back from its customers, us. The Gupta family will be pleased too. Business partners with Zuma’s family, the Guptas have already been showered with favours by Eskom — they buy its computers, lend it money, help it out of low paying contracts and entertain at least one high-profile Gupta director and other proxies on its board. Of course, I doubt Eskom would go so far as to ask the Guptas to build them a reactor but the amount of civil engineering work this nuclear programme would require if it ever gets off the ground (even, I suspect, in a more limited version than the 9,600MW originally planned) would be truly breathtaking and expensive and, thus, lucrative: Energy minister says Eskom to fund nuclear as new procurement framework is unveiled. So will it all be clean? The minister, appreciating that doubt would lie thick on the ground, tried to reassure MPs in the National Assembly when she spoke yesterday: Minister gives MPs assurances on nuclear build programme.
The news about Gordhan rather eclipsed #FeesMustFall protests threatening to close campuses and destroy the academic year at major universities. But there is an important story taking shape at Wits, where the vice-chancellor, Adam Habib, appears to have decided to face the threat posed by constant and unhearing protesters head on. Wits was open yesterday and is (trying) again today. It means a lot of police on campus and a lot less violence. This piece from Politicsweb praises Habib for his stance and is rather contemptuous of UCT vice-chancellor Max Price, who hasn’t followed the same plan of action. It could still all end in tears but I think Habib is doing the only thing left that he can do — he’s drawn a line in the sand: Wits and UCT: Two paths taken.
Finally, the Springboks, our other great tragedy. Here’s a great piece in The London Times today, warning that the Boks may not be just suffering a loss of form but that what is happening to them might be what happened to the West Indies in cricket. Once they ruled, now they are ordinary. I hope you can get through The Times paywall because this is a very good analysis of our rugby problems: Springboks are spiralling out of control.