THIS might seem like a cliché to some, but few will disagree that 2016 will go down as a year to remember for all the wrong reasons.
We returned from the December 2015-January 2016 holidays feeling nervous and wondering what lay ahead for our country’s fortunes. This was following the hard-to-justify December 2015 firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene - a competent, well-meaning and deservedly respected civil servant.
READ: South Africans praise their hero Nhlanhla Nene
Much has been told about his strange replacement by an unknown backbencher who, we now know, had just undergone an intense seven-day grooming by the Guptas, the president’s sticky bedfellows. The grooming came with a bonus: two Gupta-appointed minders whose task, it now seems obvious, would have been to ensure that the unknown backbencher delivered on his Zupta mandate.
It’s now also common cause that the haste with which Nene had been removed and replaced raised suspicions all over the place, here and abroad. Ironically, this was a good thing despite the market subsequently panicking and billions of rands being wiped off South African bonds. It resulted in the president being forced to back down and reappoint a more trusted former finance minister, Pravin Gordhan.
Armed with the poisoned chalice that had just been handed to him, Gordhan was to spend the next year acting as an alert sentinel at the gate of our national vault, regularly dodging bullets on our behalf.
Lest we forget, Nene was not the first one to fall after reportedly refusing to give in to pressure to place the president’s narrow interests ahead of those of the country. Before him, other moves had already been made to clear the way for the president’s planted men and women to carry on their nefarious mandates at our collective expense.
Malusi Gigaba, a former minister of public enterprises, was allegedly removed from that position after he failed to acknowledge the unwritten ‘seniority’ and ‘untouchability’ of one Dudu Myeni, chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation who continues to double up as chair of the South African Airways board, imposed and protected from above.
In a normal world not only would Myeni, a primary school teacher, never have qualified to be appointed board chairperson of an ailing airline with ambitions to rank among the best in the world; she would long have been removed for her dismal, well-published ethical and governance failures.
Captive is the new normal
But our country is led by a man, supported by a formerly glorious movement, who has made it his business to ensure that ours is no longer a normal world. For him, captive is the new normal.
Gigaba’s successor at the Ministry of Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown, who had been known elsewhere not to easily countenance incompetence, tried to come down hard on Myeni for the latter’s irrational suspension of a respected CEO; she paid dearly for it.
To ‘solve’ the problem and continue shielding Myeni, the president removed all political and governance oversight of SAA from Brown - making her seem incapable of doing her job - and placed the Myeni-loaded national carrier in the unsuspecting hands of National Treasury.
This move was tantamount to throwing a stink bomb in the middle of a fancy cocktail party.
READ: Dudu Myeni - Nene's SAA nemesis
Nene was to go down trying to resist the stink that had been hurled into the Treasury’s living room and, ostensibly, other attempts to get him to approve irrational budgeting for a mega trillion rand project, the nuclear new build procurement, with no clarity of how it would be financed in an increasingly failing economy.
The cancer within
Insider stories have it that our national Cabinet might be harbouring other Zupta deployees, who have accepted cash and other favours in return for ensuring that Zupta businesses benefit unfairly from the bulk of government procurement expenditure.
There is a whole network of such businesses all over the place. Such captured Cabinet members and their deputies are sitting tight, hoping that the slowly advancing torchlight never reaches the crevices in which they hide; but it is just a matter of time before they too get outed.
There are provincial premiers, senior leaders at state-owned enterprises and government departments, so-called struggle veterans with dubious claims to the past and a questionable memory of how our country’s post-apartheid settlement was reached, all planted to enable grand-scale corruption.
The incorrigible Hlaudi Motsoeneng still stands at the SABC, at least for now (he was told not to go to work but his exact position is yet to be clarified), after pretending to be occupying a lesser influential position but earning the same salary and operating from the same office. He too was protected from above through a pliable ministerial proxy.
At Eskom, Brian Molefe might be gone but many other enablers remain in the system and have to be flushed out, one by one. We shouldn’t be fooled; the cancer remains entrenched
READ: Cut out the Zuma cancer, say Fin24 users
Every morning, government employees are force-fed the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper, for which millions of taxpayer rands are paid in subscriptions and advertisements. The Gupta-owned television channel ANN7 - reportedly funded with taxpayer money - is now an obligatory news source in the offices of the so-called public protector.
Strangely, this switch came in as part of her list of, seemingly, top ten week one deliverables. It is strange that, despite the obvious signs, some people still insist the formidable Advocate Thuli Madonsela’s successor must be given more time to show her true colours. What more time, when she herself has made it clear that she doesn’t do honeymoons?
2016 was also a year of seminal court judgments against the president. Topping them all was the Constitutional Court judgment which went beyond making a ruling on the abuse of public funds on his private compound, Nkandla.
It also, articulately, reminded us of the responsibilities of the president vis-à-vis our democratic institutions, responsibilities that have been violated over and over again. Still gazing unblinkingly into the eyes of the president, the court also reminded us that the Office of the Public Protector was established for a purpose and that its rulings were binding to all, including the president.
But, shielded by party and other supporters who have placed narrow political interests ahead of country, people, and the constitution, the president continues to survive it all by fighting an endless litany of taxpayer-funded legal technicalities aimed at kicking the inevitable further down the road.
Strange government decisions
Having moved further away from our earlier declared human rights-driven domestic and foreign policies, we’ve also seen South Africa being made to side with horrible despots and human rights violators in the name of African brotherhood.
As we speak, the country is being withdrawn from the International Criminal Court and our United Nations representatives have been made to vote against several resolutions aimed at protecting the rights of the most vulnerable people around the world. These include the often persecuted LGBTI communities and victims of despotic murderers such as Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, pronounced guilty by the ICC and enabled to brandish a middle finger to South Africa's courts.
Given all of this, especially the sands beginning to shift within the ANC, it is hard to predict what 2017 holds for us. However, the levels of civil society vigilance and activism should be sustained by all peaceful means necessary.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley. Views expressed are his own.