Could Zuma really be so stupid?

Jeremy Gordin asks whether we are witnessing a cock-up or a conspiracy

What if....?

“What if,” I said, pointing a stubby forefinger at my gorgeous wife on Wednesday night, “what if the goody-goodies have got it wrong, as has happened more than once before?”

“What?” she responded blearily. “What are you banging on about?”

I wasn’t certain if my gorgeous wife was confused by the intricacies of my argument or if spending eight hours in her place of work had addled her brain irretrievably. So I tried again.

“Listen,” I said subtly, “everyone’s got their knickers in a twist about the Hawks sending Pravin Gordhan a letter asking that he drop by for a ‘warning statement’ (a phrase that makes as much linguistic sense as ‘drug abuse’ – but that’s by the way). They think that Gedley (my affectionate name for President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma) has sicced this fellow, General Berning Ntlemeza, on Gordhan.”

Now, first of all (I explained to my wife), I think that someone whose parents called him “Berning” should stay well out of incendiary situations. Bernie, I can live with. Or even “Boinie,” as a New York City cabbie might say, I could accept. But Berning smacks to me too much of pyromania.

More to the point perhaps, there is no overt evidence (that I know of) linking Gedley to General Ntlemeza’s letter to Gordhan. There are all sorts of theories of course. Gordhan won’t let Gedley buy nuclear material from Vladimir “Vlad the impaler” Putin; or Gedley doesn’t want Gordhan messing any further with his, er, friend at SAA; or some kind of deal was cut with the Guppy Guptas and Gedley’s under pressure to kibosh Gordhan. In short, the theory is that Gedley wants to take control of purse strings, finish and klaar. But theories – especially conspiracy theories – are not cogent evidence; they are allegations.

Also, look at the letter that Gordhan’s lawyers sent to the Hawks. It’s clear that the Hawks believe there are charges that Gordhan has to answer. Now then, the Hawks might have a limited understanding of the law – I presume that goes without saying – and the Hawks might have precious little charm or understanding of the economy – I presume that also goes without saying. But there is a case to answer even if it’s been blown out of proportion.

Who knows? Maybe General Berning is buddies with Tom Moyane, the present SARS commissioner – who is, believe you me, no friend of Gordhan’s. Now, I would struggle hard to come up with two men as inept and devious (I’m trying to use mild adjectives) as Moyane and Ntlemeza – and believe me there are tons of contenders – and I would not be terribly shocked if Moyane said inter alia to Ntlemeza: “You go, guy, you go. Get that Gordhan, we guardians of the flame don’t need him, he’s too arrogant. He thinks he’s above the law.”

The fellows in the Hawks don’t really think too hard or too much about the way businessmen, economists, people with money and investments, and those who want to buy books from Amazon or travel overseas, turn pale and sweaty when the rand dips. We might even discover, some years down the line, that General Berning thinks he’s striking a blow against corruption – which is our ruling mantra, isn’t it? – and that he was going to earn Seffrica’s approval.

Because, I repeat: there are two issues requiring clarity. Why did the SARS commissioner (Gordhan then) allow the creation of a “secret”, intelligence-gathering unit? In post-apartheid Seffrica? You think it’s acceptable? Okay, maybe; I know that all the self-respecting government revenue operations throughout the world run such units. Try the guys in Israel; they’re especially mean. But still; we are the Rainbow Nation and we like to be very noble. Secondly, can you imagine if someone else, not as beloved as Gordhan, let his deputy go on pension early, then hired him back on contract at a fat salary? Think about it.

So why blame Gedley? Yes, I know, it’s Gedley-bashing season and he’s been doing (and saying) some pretty bizarre things. But surely you don’t think he’s so stupid – particularly now, post-Nene, post-municipal elections – so stupid as to issue an instruction, covert or overt, to General Berning to go for Gordhan...?

Well, you might think he is that stupid. I however don’t think he is. I think we have a classic Seffrican tableau here – inept, over-anal bureaucrats, bad lawyers – they can’t even put the decimal point in the right place in a legal letter – and men (sorry, people) drowning in their incompetence and confusion like some township dwellers sometimes drown in sewage. As for President Zuma, I think he knows a lot less about what’s going on than people imagine he does. I think this is a bunch of guys (in the Hawks) thinking they’re doing the “right thing”.

But assuming I am being silly, however, and Zuma does know what’s going on, what, if you were Zuma, would you being doing now? You’d be trying to keep things on an even keel, lying low, waiting for the national conference that is being mooted, and getting rid of your enemies there. No point in messing with Gordhan, is there?

On the other hand, there are younger and wiser people than I am, who disagree. Carol Paton had an article in this morning’s Business Day in which she suggests that “a successful prosecution has never been the point; the point is to get Gordhan out ...The idea is to create a narrative to justify his removal,” she wrote.

She doesn’t, however, really explain why this might be so. Presumably the answer to this is that the Zuma faction doesn’t much care for Gordhan and his probity and/or Zuma made a bunch of promises (see above) that must now be honoured.

Well, we shall see. One last point. Gordhan seems a fine enough man – but he is a spin doctor extraordinaire. He makes the great spin doctors of our time – Tony Blair, Chris Vick, whoever – he makes them look like rank amateurs. He always has. And look at him now. He is playing the media and the public as though he were Jascha Heifetz and we are a Stradivarius.

Why is he running his hassles with the Hawks in public? Why is he reading his legal letters at meetings of business people in Cape Town? No, Pravin, no; not cricket. Besides, if the Paton thesis is on the money, then Gordhan’s allowing himself to be baited and then led to the slaughter. He should have played along with the bozos – until they came a cropper in court.

Even George Bizos and Judge Johan Kriegler were out today, protesting. I don’t get it. Surely those two great brains realized that Zuma would respond, as he has, by saying that he would be disrespecting the Constitution if he interfered with the General. Heh-heh. Heh-heh.

PS. It was Russian writer Isaac Babel who said just before was murdered by the Soviets: “I am innocent. I have never been a spy. I never allowed any action against the Soviet Union. I accused myself falsely. I was forced to make false accusations against myself and others... I am asking for only one thing—let me finish my work.”  Shouldn’t Gordhan have been reading Thomas Picketty instead?