Bruce’s List: A guide to informed reads.
National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams is in danger of being upgraded. It’s the season for ratings. In our terms, Abrahams is currently rated “Captured Idiot”. One step up, depending obviously on thorough review, could result in him being rated merely “Idiot with a positive outlook”. It does not get him out of the woods but it may allow him coffee in a shopping mall without being laughed at.
It’s a complicated process. Abrahams was downgraded in the first place for agreeing to charge finance minister Pravin Gordhan with fraud on a clearly spurious pretext — that Gordhan had approved the early retirement of a senior Sars official, Ivan Pillay. That meant Pillay was fully paid out on his pension but that Sars then had to pay in a penalty to the government pension plan. A few days later, when it became clear that thousands of civil servants received similar treatment, he dropped the charges. That led to a heated exchange between him and the head of the Hawks, Jacob Zuma’s personal police force, Berning Ntlemeza, who is leading a determined assault on Gordhan, and who won’t give up. His flip-flop also encouraged the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law to petition Zuma to suspend Abrahams pending an inquiry into his fitness to hold office.
Zuma then wrote a letter to Abrahams asking him to explain why he should not be suspended. On the face of it, it looks like Zuma is doing what he often does to supporters — he dumps them when they become inconvenient. So it could be that the failure to charge Gordhan triggered the letter to Abrahams from Zuma. But it could also be that Zuma has learnt a lesson — failure to act, or to be seen to act, on petitions like the ones from the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law is problematic. Could Abrahams get away with it simply because Zuma is covering himself to make the petitions go away? The fact is that Zuma must now be running short of people to put into positions like the one Abrahams occupies. If he were to be replaced by another idiot that appointee would immediately be challenged for fitness.
Zuma is fighting for his political life. To survive, to stay out of jail, he needs to be in office long enough to be able to control the process that leads to the election, in December next year, of his successor as president of the ANC and, ultimately, of the country. It is all he has to do. He wants his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the job but she is not a sure bet and a lot can happen in our politics in a year, no matter how cunning Zuma is at manipulating events in the ANC to his advantage. And, of course, if Abrahams decides to go for broke and to defend himself, he could unilaterally decide to reinstate the 783 fraud counts against Zuma. In fact, they are already reinstated, but Abrahams has helpfully tried to appeal the ruling that reinstated them. Ranjeni Munusamy profitably strings together this good essay and asks the obvious question — How Long Can Zuma Carry On?
And her colleague at Daily Maverick, Marianne Thamm, takes us neatly back to the guy who started all of this — Sars head and close Zuma ally, Tom Moyane.
And, of course, there’s the immensely cheerful news that Mark Pamensky has resigned from the board of Eskom. He is the Gupta family’s most obvious proxy on the Eskom board and he didn’t escape mention in Thuli Madonsela’s report on the Gupta’s “capture” of Eskom. Pamensky remains the lead independent director on the listed Gupta vehicle, Oakbay Resources. There are still a number of Gupta proxies at Eskom but with both CEO Brian Molefe and now Pamensky going, a cleaner power monopoly beckons.
Meanwhile it is hard to ignore what is happening to the US in the wake of Donald Trump’s amazing victory on November 8. What, we keep on asking ourselves here in SA, will Trump mean for Africa? We still don’t know and Trump doesn’t know either, but he will be surrounded by members of the Republican establishment (not for nothing has he appointed a bridge-builder, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff — he needs the party behind him especially as a link with Congress). One such person may be J Peter Pham, Africa Centre director at the nonpartisan Atlantic Council. He has written this essay on why Africa should feature large in Trump’s foreign policy (though he hardly mentioned this during his campaign). Some commentators see Pham’s thoughts as a pitch for the job of leading the coming administration’s efforts in Africa. The job in question would be assistant secretary of state for African affairs. He makes a compelling case.
Chinese hostility to Trump, for the moment, appears to have vaporised. From warning him not to start a trade war the Chinese media is suddenly full of praise for the president-elect. It all appears to have happened after a telephone conversation between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping. It is fascinating. Nonetheless, Trump is Trump. Vanity Fair magazine has recently visited a typically Trump hotel just built in Washington. It is not only in the old Washington DC Post Office building and thus rented from the government he will soon lead; it is also in clear view of the White House. It is gaudy beyond belief and, blessedly, largely empty. Will Trump change all that by booking important visitors to the US into it and holding informal cabinet meetings there? This is quite long and obviously, because Vanity Fair is part of the Liberal establishment, full of vitriol, A delightful read.