Professor Chris Malikane is a distraction. He may be Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s adviser but has almost no influence on state policy. The amount of attention paid to his views serves a sneaky purpose that needs to be better understood.
The ANC government has mightily cheesed off its tripartite alliance partners for many reasons. The dreadful leadership of President Jacob Zuma is only one gripe the communists and trade unionists have with the ANC.
Those on the left have another serious gripe. It is deep disappointment with years of neoliberal economic policies. The combination of neoliberal economic policies and theft from the state do not serve the interests of workers, socialists and the poor. Zuma and Gigaba understand these gripes.
Their gimmicky response to these criticisms is to appoint someone like Malikane to the state. It is yet another attempt to pull the wool over the hungry eyes of the left.
It is incredible how much time is being spent analysing what Malikane has to say about economics, the possibility of the poor rising up one day if structural inequities are not addressed swiftly, and what Malikane understands of that other linguistic gibberish — radical economic transformation.
Frankly, Gigaba does not care what Malikane thinks. Malikane is simply a prop. He is there to fool critics of Zuma and the ANC into thinking, albeit belatedly, that they take their critics in the alliance seriously.
They do not take them seriously. The left is not fooled. If they did take criticism seriously, they would deal with the biggest obstacle to a pro-poor state, which is Zuma himself. Beyond Zuma, the economic cluster would also show a more serious commitment to implementing genuinely pro-poor and inclusive economic growth policies that can simultaneously get the economy out of its rut and reduce levels of inequality in society.
None of this is part of the ANC government’s agenda. The irony is that the biggest beneficiaries of neoliberal economic policies — capital — are also so dumb in how they read the appointment of Malikane that investors, business leaders, financial journalists and analysts talk and write about fears of a rupture in ANC economic policy now that Malikane is an adviser to Gigaba.
This is tactical genius on the part of Mr Gigabyte. He has succeeded in fooling sections of the public and business into thinking that the appointment of Malikane means a change in the state. He achieved this through the fake symbolism of commitment to more socialist economic policies represented in the appointment and voice of Malikane.
Malikane himself is, rather embarrassingly, playing along. It is tragicomic to watch an economist and academic with his years of experience interacting with politicians and the state and not seeing how he is being used by Gigaba.
I do not know whether this is driven by the ego’s response to being in the limelight, the thrill of flying around the globe with a government minister, or maybe the sheer boredom of being a full-time academic economist.
Malikane would do well to understand that he is not being taken seriously. Some on the left should also disabuse themselves of the fiction that they now have a seat at the table. They do not. Fortunately, some trade unionists already get it that Malikane is just a prop.
So what is it that Malikane is a distraction from? It is far more important to keep an eye on Gigaba’s second adviser, Thamsanqa Msomi. He serves on the Denel board and investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh has written extensively about Msomi’s reported links to the Gupta family.
Myburgh’s book, The Republic of Gupta, lifts the lid on the extent of the Guptas’ reach into South African society. The situation is worse than most people would imagine. Msomi is understood to have been keen to stop treasury’s efforts to prevent a venture between Denel and VR Laser from going ahead.
Myburgh also demonstrates what appears to be proximity between the Guptas and Gigaba going back to the days when Gigaba was minister of public enterprises and in a position to make appointments to boards of state-owned companies that favoured whoever he might have been keen to please.
The chilling question we have to ask is: If the Guptas would have loved to have, say, someone like Des van Rooyen or Brian Molefe as minister of finance but the public outcry stopped those appointments from lasting for more than four days or happening at all, what about Gigaba?
If we are honest, a key appointment is not merely, or at all, about what Zuma wants. It is not about giving young politicians a place in the executive. We live in the Republic of Gupta and it is unlikely that Gigaba’s appointment, or that of Msomi, did not meet the approval of the Gupta looters.
Should Gigaba be given a chance to prove himself? Yes. Should we assume he is inherently beyond reproach? That would be naive. The Guptas should not be underestimated. They always lurk in the shadows.