After living in South Africa for five years and following its politics, I have a better understanding of who’s who and what’s what. There are times I cannot help but compare this country under President Jacob Zuma today with Kenya in its last decade under President Daniel arap Moi.
For instance, the economy is struggling, but the chattering classes are more worried about the reaction of external agencies than about its effect on the ordinary man. During Moi’s final decade, Kenya’s middle class was all about what the World Bank and IMF would say and do if this or that happened. In SA, it's not the Bretton Woods Institutions but credit rating agencies such as Moody’s, Standard & Poor and their ilk who seem to worry everyone. While the elite are jabbering on about these intangibles, the man at the top is confident that he still speaks the language of the man on the street and, thus, is sure of their support.
Think about it: After the 1997 elections, Moi dropped Prof George Saitoti as Vice President and couldn’t be bothered to appoint a replacement. Fourteen months later, the opposition and civil society had shouted themselves hoarse about the country not having a constitutionally guaranteed successor were he suddenly to become incapacitated or something, even though they probably wouldn’t have minded that prospect very much; this was just another stick to beat the President with.
In a typically offhand response, made in his own sweet time during one of the casual roadside declarations he was infamous for, Moi reappointed Saitoti, saying: "Haya, chukua, kama hiyo itaongeza sufuria ya ugali kwa nyumba yenu! (There, have it, if it will increase the number of pots for ugali in your houses!)"
This didn’t stop the President showing his contempt for his second-in command and, a couple of years later, when the ruling party staged its elections after its merger with Raila Odinga’s NDP, Saitoti found himself outmanoeuvred at Kasarani (or was that kiserani?) by Moi, who then famously said: “Huyu makamu wa rais ni rafiki yangu. Lakini urafiki na siasa ni tofauti. (The vice president is my friend. But politics and friendship are two different things).” Leading to Saitoti’s quip: “There come (sic) a time when the nation is more important than an individual.”
Similarly in SA, while Zuma may not actually have said anything in December last year when he suddenly dropped Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene from the Cabinet, he may have been thinking as Moi did after reappointing Saitoti back in 1999. Zuma replaced Nene with the relatively unknown David van Rooyen, whom he then replaced after just four days with Pravin Gordhan.
Towards the end of February, the Mail and Guardian newspaper reported Zuma saying of the reshuffles: “That caused such havoc. People think Zuma just woke up one day and took a decision. Some say he was told by some people (to appoint Van Rooyen as Finance Minister).”
“You know Van Rooyen is my comrade, MK (Umkhontho we Sizwe) for that matter — where I come from. He’s a trained finance and economic comrade, more qualified than any minister I have ever appointed there, in the finance issue. Imagine if I had appointed a fellow who looks after cattle at Nkandla as Finance Minister?”
It sounded to me as if JZ in 2017 was channelling Uncle Dan in 1999, but maybe that’s just me.