There would have been anxious eyes trained on last week’s election results in the Pretoria offices of Africa’s largest money manager, the Public Investment Corp (PIC). In recent weeks, the corridor talk suggests that after the election President Jacob Zuma will reshuffle his cabinet, with dire consequences for SA’s fiscal institutions.
In particular, one man said to be in the firing line for "redeployment" is deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who last year blew the whistle on how he’d been secretly offered his boss’s job by the Gupta family.
This would be acutely troubling — not least because Jonas chairs the PIC, a position held automatically by the deputy minister. Now, the PIC controls R1.8trillion in government employees’ pensions, so it’s a role in which you’d want someone with pretty unshakeable ethics.
Jonas fits the bill: you don’t brand the president’s friends as liars unless you have a pretty unyielding personal conscience.
Those touted as his replacement include Sfiso Buthelezi (who was sworn in as an ANC member of parliament in March) and Eskom CEO Brian Molefe.
Both have solid credentials: Buthelezi, who was an adviser to Zuma between 1994 and 1999, is an economist; Molefe is a proficient former deputy director-general at treasury.
But the concern is that their elevation would be less a benign reshuffling of the decks, and more a precursor to Zuma’s lackeys tightening their grip on the PIC’s massive untapped financial reservoir.
Thankfully, the ANC’s parlous electoral showing — in which it lost control of four key cities and its national support fell from 62% to 54% — means a Zuma-led assault on the PIC’s coffers is now that much more remote.
This is just as well, considering that well-placed sources say that in recent months a war of attrition has been bubbling at the PIC.
Dr Daniel Matjila, the CEO of the institution, has been having a "torrid time", according to those close to him, as he has fought to resist those with aspirations of turning the pensions manager into a personal piggy bank of the well-connected.
Matjila is nobody’s fool. He has a PhD in mathematics — a subject he went on to teach at the University of the North for nine years. Dr Dan also studied management at Harvard before working for Anglo American as a manager of quantitative research analysis, and then at asset manager Stanlib.
So he gets why it’s crucial that the PIC doesn’t fall into the hands of people who would allow it to be bent to the will of politically connected vampires.
Commendably, the PIC wasn’t involved in funding the Guptas’ purchase of Oakbay in 2009; nor was it involved in stumping up the cash so the family could buy Optimum Coal from Glencore in March.
But with a more compliant chairman, it might be different.
However, insiders say that in recent times, the Guptas have repeatedly pestered Matjila to meet with them — overtures he has resisted.
The public isn’t blind to these currents. The impunity with which the Guptas tried to compromise key institutions seems to have been a key factor in the ANC’s bloodletting at the polls.
Julius Malema put it bluntly: "Our county is being molested by the Guptas and Jacob Zuma, without Vaseline."
Were a Zuma loyalist — someone who placed party above country — hired to replace Jonas, he would have enormous influence.
Already, much that happens at the PIC happens in pitch darkness, with no transparency.
Of its R1.8trillion in assets, 30% are "unlisted investments", which include companies like Iqbal Survé’s Independent Newspapers. But for these "unlisted investments", there are no publicly available financial statements, nor is the rationale public for why the PIC invested.
In this context the PIC, with the wrong leadership, has the potential to be the deepest slush fund imaginable.