It’s become almost a cliche to say “last week was a tumultuous one in South African politics”. But last week really was.
Clearly, President Jacob Zuma wants to put someone in charge of Treasury who’ll be as compliant as the current head of the NPA, Marionette-in-Chief Shaun Abrahams.
But why? To say it’s all about the Guptas is not nearly enough.
Yes, the Guptas are Zuma’s friends, and yes, they probably stand to add a few more layers – through their ownership of Shiva Uranium – to their already rich cake if the nuclear-build programme goes ahead. But to risk South Africa being downgraded just to fatten up a family already gorged on tasty taxpayer cash is probably not the real (and certainly not the only) reason the president and his “law enforcement” goons are trying so hard to destroy Pravin Gordhan.
To find the answer, I would suggest looking a little farther east than India (and now Dubai), all the way to Russia, where Zuma’s biggest geopolitical buddy, Vladimir Putin, has sat in the Kremlin since 2000.
Here is a man who truly understands political survival. He makes Zuma, a man 10 years older than him, look like a bit of a teddy bear.
Russia has not only already been downgraded to “junk” by ratings agencies, but faces the kind of sanctions South Africa last needed to worry about during apartheid. Pah! Does Putin worry about that?
Both men are said to speak regularly by phone and Zuma has made several state visits to Moscow to spend days at a time with his friend.
The most intriguing of these visits was in August 2014, when Zuma appeared to be labouring under the effects of a mysterious illness. He travelled to Moscow without the usual SABC journalists in tow, and without the usual assortment of ministers, curiously taking along only state security’s David Mahlobo, Deputy Minister of International Relations Nomaindia Mfeketo, a few officials, and his doctors.
Apparently, he spent three of those six days just “relaxing”.
What subsequently emerged, however, was the seemingly outrageous news that Russia’s doctors and intelligence services had confirmed to our president that someone was poisoning him. Apparently, US doctors had already told him about this, but Zuma trusted only the Russians to confirm it. One of his wives, MaNtuli, has since been banned from the Zuma home, and the once fading Zuma has now returned to his most energetic corruption-charge-dodging ways, singing and dancing from scandal to scandal as before.
I’ve also been told Zuma and Putin are as close as they are thanks to the largely untold story of how they worked together in the 70s and 80s during the apartheid years, when Zuma rose to being the head of intelligence for Umkhonto weSizwe, and Putin gained increasing access to the levers of power in Russia’s highly feared intelligence service, the KGB.
Putin no doubt wants South Africa to commit to building more nuclear power, and for that contract to go to Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom. And if the cheapest estimate of what all of that might cost us is R400 billion, then you can be sure it will end up costing the most extreme estimate, R1 trillion – or more.
A big build project to create more nuclear power in South Africa will be the greatest folly in our history. Once power from Medupi and Kusile comes online, we’ll have more electricity than we’ll know what to do with, and we should be investing far more heavily in increasingly affordable renewables anyway.
None of that appears to be factored into the insistence by Zuma’s administration of why we must “invest” in nuclear power – which will be the last, very big straw that breaks the already straining back of our Zuma-battered economy.
Clearly, some very big assurances – perhaps even promises – were made to one of global politics’ greatest psychopaths. And if various bits of speculation in an abundance of other articles are to be given weight, then Russia has already helped to bail the ANC out of some of its debt problems, or has promised to do so, or has already paid a mountain of bribes to ensure that more atoms will be split somewhere along another bit of South African coastline in the near future – and it will be Russian physicists doing that splitting.
The fact that, by then, the ANC and the whole of South Africa will have been dangerously split into even more of its own constituent particles, radiating uncertainty, suspicion and leaderlessness into a toxic political landscape, will probably bother Zuma not one bit.
Because he knows Putin is not a man you say no to – especially not after you’ve assured him it will all be sorted out. No doubt, his Russian counterpart must look at how Zuma allows himself to be troubled by such trifles as rule of law, the media and opposition politicians, and find it quite quaint.
Amid all of this, the Guptas are an ongoing, though very compelling, distraction – probably one Zuma is hoping we’ll keep fussing over while those regular phone calls to the Kremlin continue.