In my opinion, Malusi Gigaba’s maiden Mid-term Budget Policy speech was primarily geared towards protecting his personal political future. He laid out in no uncertain terms the depressingly ugly state of our economy, then deferred or postponed taking any long-term remedial action until February 2018. Why?
Put yourself in his very expensive shoes for a moment, and consider how else could he have approached the subject when he can’t be sure who his boss will be in February 2018? His best option for self-preservation was to do exactly as he did – factually point out what is wrong and then do nothing other than try to balance the aspirations of the main contenders for ANC presidency, without also upsetting the incumbent.
Think carefully about what Gigaba was attempting to juggle – Zuma might, God forbid, still be President, and he desperately needs nuclear, so Gigaba gives credibility to the nuclear deal with a caveat that it must be affordable, so it was a yes/no commitment.
Dlamini-Zuma promotes non-specific “radical economic transformation” which was given significant traction in the speech, as was Ramaphosa’s “inclusive development” philosophy. Gigaba managed to blend both into being the best way forward – essentially saying we need to radically transform, but we can’t do it alone and need the private sector to drive it - so another yes/no, or no/yes commitment depending upon which way your own perception mop flops.
When, in this same government/business section of his speech Gigaba alluded to “unity” being vital to the way forward, was he referring to public/private co-operation, or was he just opening the door to a future under Zweli Mkhize should he prevail as the ANC’s “unity” candidate in December. Listen carefully to what Gigaba says on the unity issue and how he says it - I have my interpretation, but you might think differently.
Gigaba used a lot of words that alluded to much but promised nothing in a speech that was carefully crafted to protect his own position, obliquely confirming that the internal war raging within the ANC is far from being a fait accompli for any faction. But what does it tell us about Gigaba himself? Is he just another avaricious politician taking the gap, or has he realised the error of his previous ways? As a political cynic I am biased, but even so there is no doubt that Gigaba is an intelligent and articulate politician who could make a positive contribution to the country if he chooses the right path to follow. In this respect were his closing references to predecessors Pravin Gordhan and Trevor Manuel a genuine acclamation of their contributions, or a reminder that they are now history?
As is usual when personal or party politics comes before the people, there is nothing encouraging to be found in the speech. In fact, it has created a level of short-term financial uncertainty that will no doubt result in ratings agency downgrades that will be disastrous for all of us, and devastating for the poorest of us. Meanwhile we are left guessing as to what more damage might be done in the February 2018 budget.
Another disheartening event occurred before Gigaba had a chance to open his mouth. The EFF walked out - again! When will the EFF and their supporters learn that parliament is not a kindergarten sandpit? They have a responsibility to participate, not just walk away when the going might get tough. They must not only question the personal integrity of Ministers, but also learn to question the integrity of Ministerial policies – they can’t do that if they are not there to listen. The EFF obviously has no imagination, no vision, and no workable alternative proposals, so their standard fall-back position is to grandstand their exit from legitimate proceedings.