President Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

SA is in the midst of what might be described as a great unravelling. Taken together, a series of related political and economic events suggest the forces behind "state capture" are weakening and the ANC may be in the process of self-correcting. Is this true? And how far will it go?

The series of events include the outcome of the ANC’s policy conference, which most political analysts suggest was at best an uncomfortable stalemate and at worst, an outright loss for President Jacob Zuma’s faction. The conference was ostensibly to decide policy issues, but it became apparent that policy subjects were a mechanism by means of which the battle of leadership succession was being fought.

Nothing illustrates the setback for the "premier league" better than Zuma’s outlandish suggestion that anyone who lost the race for the presidency should automatically become the deputy president. The suggestion was couched in terms of party unity, but was transparently based on a fear that his chosen successor — his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — was failing to win support.

In a related development, it appears the ideological touchstones of the premier league, like the notion of "white
monopoly capital", support for the new Mining Charter and uncompensated expropriation of land were viewed with scepticism by delegates. The term "white monopoly capital" was reduced to "monopoly capital".

The biggest problem with the conference is that the debate and the conclusions drawn were of low quality. The future arrives with speed and vigour, but the ANC seems determined to pitch its debate in terms that have long since been rejected by even staunchly left-wing parties around the world. These ideas are not designed to tackle problems like work substitution by machines and environmental change. It took EFF leader Julius Malema, of all people, to point out the obvious: the ANC doesn’t have a recession plan.

It is also noteworthy how many key supporters Zuma has lost, many of whom are related to, or supported by, the Gupta family. The unravelling is particularly visible here. They include Brian Molefe, who was given back his Eskom CEO job and then not given it back; Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the SABC; Hawks head Maj-Gen Mthandazo "Berning" Ntlemeza; and acting national police commissioner Lt-Gen Khomotso Phahlane.

The family has not only lost its image maker, Bell Pottinger, but the London-based public relations firm sensationally acknowledged last week that it set out explicitly to aggravate racial tensions and propagate false information. One person has been fired and three suspended, but more is to come because the firm has agreed to publish the findings of a law firm hired to examine its work for the Oakbay group.

If that were not enough, the Gupta family’s major corporate vehicle, Oakbay Resources, has been suspended on the JSE because it has been unable to find a sponsor. This is bad news for the company, but even worse for the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which converted interest on its R257m loan to Oakbay into shares at R9. Those shares now cannot be converted into cash and with the share price at R5.80, the IDC will have to book a loss of about R90m.

Old Mutual analyst Graham Bell recently published in Business Day a review of global economics in which he quoted historian CW de Kiewiet’s 1940s aphorism that SA advanced politically by catastrophe and economically by windfall. Bell was making the point that although in SA the economy is in a dire slump, the global economy is looking up.

The question is whether these "green shoots" will bloom or wither on the vine. The subtraction of the bad does not necessarily imply the addition of the good.

But, given the options, it is an improvement.

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