Thursday, 25 August 2016

Zuma emboldened

Predictions that President Jacob Zuma will redouble efforts to regain control over policy and patronage after the African National Congress's losses in the municipal elections (see Feature, Zuma carries on regardless) are fast proving accurate. On 22 August, Zuma loyalists said they had expected him to announce a ministerial reshuffle, well ahead of the ANC's special conference to pick its presidential candidate for 2019. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande were said to be in danger. Both have clashed with Zuma.

Zuma's allies expect him to use a special committee to reassert executive control over the management and budgets of state-owned companies. This would allow him to overrule Gordhan's opposition to a financing deal for South African Airways proposed by Dudu Myeni, a Zuma ally who chairs the airline's Board.

There are bigger projects at stake in this contest, such as Zuma's support for multi-billion dollar contracts with Russian contractors to build nuclear power stations. However improbable it looked in the wake of the ANC election losses, Zuma and allies are pressing ahead. The Hawks, the police investigative unit close to Zuma, summoned Gordhan on 25 August and told journalists they were about to arrest him for setting up an illegal surveillance unit when he ran the tax authority. As news spread, the rand nosedived and talk of a financial ratings downgrade revived. Duelling with Gordhan could prove Zuma's biggest gamble.

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