Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

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Bruce's List: Zuma’s damned if he fires Gordhan and damned if he doesn't

Bruce’s List: A guide to informed reads.

When I returned to SA in 1996 after a self-imposed 20-year exile, I couldn’t help noticing what had happened to Afrikaans names. English had crept in to them. So you’d find yourself reading about Brian Pienaar, Norman de Klerk, Trevor Odendaal. For the first time I remember, I’ve just seen the reverse.

Enter “Vlok” Symington. Vlok is a lawyer with the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and he is at the centre of easily the most sensational story of the year. In SA it takes a lot to bump a mini-budget off the top of the news cycle before you even wake up properly the next morning but Vlok has done it.

It is hard to describe but the story, unearthed by Mail & Guardian reporter Pauli van Wyk, basically concerns efforts by the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Tom Moyane, President Jacob Zuma’s plant at the head of Sars, to scramble together an enhanced case of fraud against finance minister Pravin Gordhan. NPA head Shaun Abrahams theatrically announced about two weeks ago that he was charging Gordhan and two others with fraud for approving the early retirement of former Sars deputy head Ivan Pillay.

When it almost instantly became clear that thousands of civil servants had been granted the same right to retire early, and for their employer to compensate the government employee pension fund for their payouts, the Hawks, who have been leading the hunt against Gordhan, went into overdrive and inadvertently forced Moyane into a dreadful error, the price of which has yet to unfold. It will be high. And it will once again reflect the by-now indisputable fact that Zuma’s poor judgment has led him to surround himself with incompetent sycophants who will land him in deep trouble instead of, as he had planned, keeping him out of it. Here is Van Wyk’s early story. The Mail & Guardian has a paywall but it has put a brief, free-to-air version, as it were, and promises to update it during the day: Emails involving Hawks and NPA lead to 'hostage' drama at Sars office.

Over at the Daily Maverick, which is open, Marianne Thamm has this fuller version. It is, as she puts it, game over for Zuma, Moyane, Abrahams and the Hawks: Game Over for Abrahams, Moyane and Co: Documents prove Gordhan prosecution political.

As for Wednesday’s medium-term budget policy statement, Hilary Joffe in Business Day on Thursday is way out in front with this analysis. For all Gordhan’s invocation of the need for growth, or inclusive growth, on Wednesday there was precious little in his statement to stimulate growth. I reckon he has taken the advice of David Lipton, first deputy MD of the IMF, who was in SA recently. As Joffe puts it, Gordhan’s challenge, or Lipton’s advice in the face of low growth and ratings agency insistence on fiscal consolidation, was to arrive at something called “growth-friendly” fiscal consolidation. In other words, cut spending and debt but in a way that doesn’t strangle what little growth there might still be in the economy. Time will tell whether or not Gordhan got it right: Gordhan focuses on steering SA through two more years of Zuma.

Finally, the Business Day team put together this very clear breakdown of what Gordhan had to say on Wednesday: Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget in a nutshell: big tax increases, spending cuts.

Oh, wait, it seems the president fell asleep during the speech. Fiscal consolidation was never his thing as this video on Financial Mail seems to establish: WATCH: Zuma falls asleep during budget speech.