By BO Staff Writer
The budget speech delivered by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in February this year received a standing ovation from all the political parties in parliament. Even the “Marxist-Leninist” Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) could not resist the sweet sounding words of a budget meant to save South Africa from the eminent downgrading into “junk status”. Ideological truces were declared. A situation of capitalists and socialists united in capitalism was inaugurated. Gordhan’s budget became the first programme of the right wing to unite behind the regime change actors who fully emerged a few months later.
Gordhan was appointed under controversial circumstances. President Jacob Zuma had fired the then Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene, who was by all accounts an underperforming minister even by the very neo-liberal standards he adhered to. The main opposition parties where calling for his sacking and SA was already on a downward spiral, moving towards a certain “downgrading” by the mafia-like rating agencies. But President Zuma made a big mistake, which he shall regret for a long time. He appointed David van Rooyen, a complete outsider to the actual politics of the department of finance. This appointment alarmed the capitalists of South Africa whose criminal activities have been protected by successive ministers of finance. An outsider might have asked questions about the tax dodging practices and in particular, the “life boat” shocking criminal activities of some of the biggest banks and white capitalists, like Johann Rupert, and decided to do something about them. Money amounting to R26 billion or more.
The appointment of Van Rooyen ignited a massive panic in the ranks of white capital. They went into action and called on the debts of those who are its servants and beneficiaries. The decision was to be overturned and an agreeable minister appointed, someone who would continue to protect white capital and its criminal activities. The appointing finger rested on Pravin Gordhan. This illegal appointment was decided upon on the night of 13 December 2015 and it occurred under duress. Capital was having a massive and brutal run on the rand. Zuma blinked!
When Gordhan gave his budget speech it was an affirmation of the Right wing front to bring certainty to the affairs of the nation for white capital, which was put into panic by appointments it never approved. Zuma was too unpredictable and uncontrollable. So the first act was to reverse the appointment of Van Rooyen. When this happened the Right wing front got emboldened. They targeted the Guptas who have increasingly been demonized as the personification of corruption. Once the Guptas where dealt with, the path to the Union Buildings to unseat Zuma would be wide open and in that situation, ambitious African National Congress (ANC) leaders who are on the margins would enter the battle with the hope of being serious players towards the 2017 ANC elective conference. This scheme chimes well with the desires of the EFF, which has a personal vendetta against Zuma and not so much the ANC itself.
Gordhan’s budget should correctly be seen as the manifesto of the Right wing front – the ANC anti-Zuma faction, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the EFF. At the core of the budget is the protection of white capital and neo-liberal policies at the expense of the black majority. Its use, was strategic for the Right wing. It unites them, as they stood in unison in parliament giving Gordhan a standing ovation. Then we saw events that unfolded outside, which culminated to the call for an open coup by the Right wing front, now led publicly by Johann Rupert.
Radical and critical scholars would in future perhaps ponder on how a “Marxist-Leninist” party would endorse a neoliberal capitalist budget. Of course our media is not interested in such contradictions. To the media, ideological contradictions stand in the way of a good story. If the budget is understood as the Manifesto of the Right wing coalition, then a lot of things fall into place.
It was quite striking how after the budget speech Gordhan went straight to London eschewing serious questions about illegal activities that where certain to occur under his guard as an overseer of the South Africa treasury. Back from London and New York, with a fresh mandate from imperialist forces, he held his report back press briefing at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). This gave ample credence to the claims that Gordhan was a minister of “Monopoly White Capital”.
The overall regime change programme, driven by London, manufactured a mantra called “state capture”, which was given impetus by Gordhan and has been ideologically held together by him. He is a figure which towered above the factions of the Right wing front and gave them coherence and confidence. The assault on the Guptas by the banks occurred on the back of these developments. The banks knew they had the backing of the minister of finance.
So what are the primary features of the Gordhan budget?
The speech is an affirmation of neo-liberal austerity measures for belt tightening for the already underfed. The budget in the main was a cut on the support of the poor to subsidize the rich. Almost all the social grant increases where below inflation (note: amounts of these grants are already inhumane). This development led to the dramatic, but true, statement by University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Professor, Patrick Bond, who said, “So Gordhan’s ‘real’ – after-inflation – cuts to welfare grants of several percent hurt us (in the petit-bourgeoisie) the least, yes, but 16.5-million recipients from South Africa’s lumpen-proletariat will struggle to find more holes in their frayed belts to tighten up, given that 63% of our compatriots – mostly women – already live below the poverty line.” This pertinent observation escaped our pro-poor and pro-worker, overall-wearing socialists. Bond, like most sane commentators, recognized something very sinister lurking all over the budget speech – privatisation! Gordhan didn’t use the ‘P’ word but made enough room for it to be the driving policy option moving forward. An observant analysis couldn’t miss the veiled reference to privatisation. A rose by another name is still a rose, Gordhan and his defenders need to be reminded.
Numsa points its finger on the pulse of the matter: “One of the worst aspects of the budget speech, however, is Gordhan’s frequent references to what he insisted is not ‘privatisation’, but in reality is. For example he says: “We must broaden the range and scope of our co-funding partnerships with private sector investors. This requires an appropriate framework to govern concession agreements and associated debt and equity instruments, and appropriate regulation of the market structure.”
The irony of our politics is that what escaped the clapping socialists in red overalls was seen by even the flat-footed liberals of Blacksash who lamented the cuts in social grants: “… the older person’s grant goes up only 4.2% this year while inflation is running at 6.2% a year. Food inflation is even higher. This means recipients of the grant are actually getting poorer in terms of what they can buy with their money.”
This is what EFF and the rest of the right wing front were applauding.
The Left leaning Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), saw the big hole in Gordhan’s budget. Anyone who was serious about free education would have been equally shocked by the total silence on the biggest development in the last year. The budget had nothing to offer the students who have been maintaining the barricades under very difficult conditions. The AIDC counsels: “The Fees Must Fall movement will be deeply disappointed with this budget. It fails to put free higher education on the radar, never mind suggesting a free education and insourcing plan. R16bn is reallocated to post school education and training, but the allocation in real terms per student over the coming three years will fall!”
This budget is clearly bad for blacks. So why applaud it if you stand on the side of the poor and excluded?
Here are five perspectives on the budget which break it down for all to see it’s a budget against the people:
1. The poor face double-digit inflation – Patrick Bond:
2. Pravin Gordhan tried to reassure capitalist investors – NUMSA:
3. Budget: Pensioners and children will be poorer – Elroy Paulus:
4. Caught between the credit ratings agencies and the local government elections – AIDC:
5. A strong society and economy is built on its people: social grant allocations inadequate: PACSA: