Nhlanhla Nene. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Nhlanhla Nene. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

A year ago on Friday, President Jacob Zuma fired then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with the unknown Des van Rooyen, causing markets to plummet and the rand to lose more than 10% of its value in just a few hours.

The market mayhem of a year ago now seems like a distant memory after a rather tumultuous year globally and locally. But one year on, the question to ask is whether SA has changed since then, and if so, has it been for the better or the worse?

In a way, nothing has changed. Zuma came under immense pressure from some of his ANC and Cabinet colleagues and was forced to replace Van Rooyen with Pravin Gordhan just four days later. Arguably, it was just a case of subtracting the negative rather than adding any positive.

Markets recovered, but SA’s growth rate deteriorated even further and we remain on watch for a downgrade by the ratings agencies. Zuma remains very much in place and is clearly going nowhere. Policy seems in many ways paralysed and the government as dysfunctional as ever.

Yet in some crucial ways, SA has changed immeasurably in this past, fraught year. We don’t know yet where the ructions we have seen this year will take us. But when we look back one day, it may well be that 9/12 will turn out to have been the inflexion point.

The changes have been in at least two key areas. One is SA’s political landscape. The behind-closed-doors intervention of ANC and business leaders to pressure Zuma into changing his disastrous Van Rooyen decision was the start of it. This began the ball rolling, and ultimately, the whole state-capture exposé was rooted in Nenegate.

It was the disclosures from Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas that he had been offered R600m by the Guptas to take the finance minister position and do their bidding that emboldened others to come forward and opened up the whole can of worms.

That led to the public protector’s report and its findings which, in turn, was the basis of the recent challenge to Zuma’s presidency from his own colleagues within the ANC’s national executive committee. In the end, Zuma and his lackeys fended off the attempt to unseat him. But while he may have won the battle, he hasn’t won the war.

And with the ANC having lost support considerably in the local government elections, SA has the kind of political contest action, inside and outside the governing party, it had not previously had in the democratic era. Whether it will end well or badly, we have yet to see. But a whole host of ANC supporters have been putting their heads above the parapets and have not had them chopped off.

In the end, Zuma and his lackeys fended off the attempt to unseat him. But while he may have won the battle, he hasn’t won the war

The same goes for business people. And this too is new, with business lately taking a more assertive stance on SA’s economy and politics in an effort to try to ensure an environment in which they can do business.

The result is that an altogether new relationship was forged between business and the government, or at least parts of the government. January saw the CEOs of SA’s largest listed companies get together with Gordhan and his team to try to rebuild the investor confidence that had been wrecked, and to avert an imminent ratings downgrade.

Those efforts have been remarkably successful so far in averting a downgrade and have also led to a much closer and more collaborative relationship, which surely must be good for SA’s economy and political life, as well as yielding some positive new public-private partnership developments, such as the small business fund and youth-employment scheme.

It might be a cliché to say countries should never waste a good crisis. One year on, it looks as though Nenegate didn’t go to waste.

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