Amid growing concerns that National Treasury and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) are being targeted by the agents of state capture, former deputy minister of finance, Mcebesi Jonas, has warned that South Africans cannot presume that any institution is safe.
“All institutions in South Africa are under threat,” he told the Morningstar Investment Conference in Cape Town on Thursday. “Until recently we have been saying that Treasury is on the right track, the Reserve Bank is on the right track, and Stats SA and the electoral commission are on the right track, but that’s not static. We must defend all institutions, even those we think are not captured, because when does the process of capture begin, and when does it end?”
Jonas shared the stage with former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who once again called on South Africans to be vigilant.
“What we have at the moment is a group of people who are willing to do anything in order to loot from the state,” said Gordhan. “And they don’t care about the consequences as long as they can accumulate what they want.”
He added that the current reality is that those involved in state capture are growing more desperate and their actions are becoming more urgent.
“The space for these guys is narrowing,” Gordhan said, “therefore the pace of looting is increasing. That’s what we should be worried about.”
Gordhan insisted that this is an issue that the whole country has to be prepared to fight against.
“This is not a question that just involves the ANC, or the government,” Gordhan said. “It involves the people of this country. All of you who are citizens of South Africa have an interest, not just from a professional point of view, but from a personal point of view – to understand this phenomenon, diagnose the problem correctly, and become actively involved in defending institutions and participating in processes that ensure that the right things happen.”
Jonas pointed out that there is a clear pattern to how institutions are captured, and this is what must be watched at the PIC.
“The pattern is a simple one,” he said. “You remove management, and put in compliant management. You remove boards, and put in boards that are compliant. The rest is very easy. That has been the scenario at state-owned enterprises.”
The recent focus on the PIC’s CEO, Dan Matjila, and attempts to remove him should therefore not be taken lightly.
Gordhan did however commend the trade union movement for getting involved very quickly. This has played a role in keeping Treasury’s actions in check so far.
“It will remain safe as long as we remain alert,” Gordhan contended. “But under the surface there is a lot going on. Every single statement issued and every step taken by Mr Gigaba and company has to be watched very carefully.”
Both Jonas and Gordhan emphasised how important it is for the country that the ANC’s national conference in December elects credible leaders.
“The importance of December is that if it goes in the right direction you will rebuild confidence in the country and the economy,” said Jonas. “For me that is probably the first step. Quite frankly, when the state loses credibility, nobody will want to engage in a meaningful way.”
Gordhan however insisted that the ‘right’ outcome in December and beyond is not simply going to happen. It has to be fought for.
“Nothing is going to be given to a platter on right thinking people to do the right things in South Africa – you have to struggle for it,” he said. “There has to be a contest. There has to be resilience so that people and ideas that are truly aligned to the national interest win at the end of the day.”
This necessarily means tackling corruption, but it also involves re-awakening the economy by building a new national consensus that unites South Africans around a single agenda that leads to inclusive growth.
For Gordhan, this can only begin with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president in two month’s time.
“The Ramaphosa team must take over in December at the ANC conference and in January they must tell Mr Zuma to go live in Nkandla,” Gordhan said. “And then they must be decisive about the kinds of things we are talking about so that we are not waiting for four years before we bring about changes. They must utilise the foundation we have and realise the potential South Africa has as a country.”