GIGABA’S POLITICS: Dim future for this chameleon
Finance minister Malusi Gigaba perfectly fitted the mould of WH Auden’s poem, "The Unknown Citizen" until his tenure as public enterprises minister, when his links to state capture emerged.
"Our researchers into Public Opinion are content/That he held the proper opinions for the time of year; /When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went," the poet wrote.
That pretty much sums up the description of Gigaba’s politics by his peers. He is a career politician who blows the way of power in the hurly-burly of SA’s political shifts.
Gigaba’s most acerbic critics in the ANC describe him as someone with little depth, and say his vacillation can in essence be attributed to the pursuit of high office — a strategy that has largely worked. To supporters he is talented, bright and astute; he has mastered the art of the political chess game, doing what is necessary to rise in the ranks of the ANC and government.
Gigaba was elected president of the ANC Youth League for three terms — in 1996, 1998 and 2001.
He was seen as one of former president Thabo Mbeki’s loyalists — but following the ANC’s rejection of Mbeki at Polokwane in 2007 and his subsequent recall and exit from the political stage, Gigaba’s allegiance switched seamlessly, allowing him to rise steadily in stature under Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma.
In ANC circles, during the debate on "generational mix" ahead of the Mangaung conference in 2012, it was naturally assumed that he, along with contemporaries like Fikile Mbalula and Zizi Kodwa, was among the rising stars who would lead the party into the future.
But how will Gigaba’s chameleon-like style of politics go down in the new administration under President Cyril Ramaphosa?
It is widely predicted that it will not be smooth sailing for the relatively young politician (he is 46), known for his immaculate suits and a glamorous lifestyle.
It is expected that Gigaba will be shifted out of national treasury in the next cabinet reshuffle. While he might remain a member of the cabinet, his demotion seems all but certain.
The main reason for this is the cloud hanging over him as a result of his tenure as public enterprises minister — and his alleged role in facilitating the "capture" of state-owned enterprises by Zuma’s alleged benefactors, the Guptas, who are now on the run.
A report into state capture by the SA Council of Churches earmarked Gigaba’s tenure at public enterprises, from 2009 to 2014, as the genesis of the state capture project.
A report by the Public Affairs Research Institute went further, describing in detail how Gigaba systematically went about "repurposing" the boards of state-owned entities, "which became broadly representative of ‘Gupta-Zuma’ interests".
According to the report, Gigaba appointed the Gupta-linked Iqbal Sharma to the Transnet board in 2010, and in 2011 he appointed Brian Molefe — whose ties to the Gupta family are well documented in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on state capture — as Transnet CEO. In June 2011, he announced wholesale changes to the boards of Eskom and Transnet.
Leaving Gigaba at the helm of treasury poses a distinct risk to the Ramaphosa administration, which was pretty much elected on an anti-corruption and anti-state-capture ticket.
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo is set to get to work on his judicial inquiry into state capture — and topping the list of his terms of reference is how the Guptas and their political allies in the state manipulated ministerial appointments and the appointments of board members in key state-owned companies.
This probe, with powers to subpoena, is set to lead directly to Gigaba’s tenure as public enterprises minister.
Still, it will provide him with an opportunity to clear his now deeply tainted name. Julius Malema’s EFF boycotted Gigaba’s maiden budget speech as a protest against his alleged role as the Guptas’ facilitator, including fast-tracking their SA citizenship when he was home affairs minister (from 2014 to 2017).
Gigaba’s hitherto fairly low-key role in politics, which simultaneously helped him rise within whatever faction was at the helm, shifted under Zuma.
His role could be exposed by the Zondo commission or, worse, it could show that he blindly followed instructions to the detriment of principle.
It will be difficult for him to maintain the strategy — that of Auden’s Unknown Citizen — that has worked for him thus far.