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[OPINION] Molefe gambit: Zuma. Does. Not. Care. Any. More

The return of Brian Molefe as CEO to Megawatt Park is perhaps the best illustration yet of the gaping divide between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings, of what happens when a president and the governing party (or at least large parts of it) can’t agree on anything anymore. It is also the best possible example of how our state-owned entities are going to be just another section of the casualties of the political battle that is currently playing out. At the same time, the decision to reinstate, or rather re-employ, Molefe shows the depths of desperation that President Jacob Zuma and those around him are prepared to sink to. But it also adds a greater impetus to those who oppose Zuma, who may now feel they have to act before more damage is done.

There is much that is obvious about this decision, ostensibly by the board of Eskom. It is obvious that they are lying when they say the return of Molefe is the only way to avoid paying him a R30-million pension package. It is obvious that he was Zuma’s first choice to be Finance Minister and is now only leaving Parliament because that plan failed. It’s also obvious that Molefe can do a better job for his puppet masters in Eskom than he can in Parliament. Which also tells you everything you need to know about how power really works in this party, and about the flow of money.

But perhaps the most telling thing it tells us is something we already sort of knew. That the ANC, and its headquarters, is no longer the leader of society, it’s no longer in charge. Under the party’s own rules, it is the deployment committee that is supposed to decide who gets jobs like CEO of Eskom. It is chaired by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was obviously bypassed in the making of this decision.

However, there is something that is new, or newish, about this situation. In the past, we have had ministers in government going against ANC policy. Faith Muthambi ignored the ANC’s Communications Commission and implemented unencrypted digital television, despite the party’s public frustration. Also, ministers have performed certain actions, drawing Luthuli House’s ire. This time around the ANC condemned, in no uncertain terms, the decision to take Molefe back to Eskom. That statement was published at around 10:00 on Friday. By around 13:45, just three hours and 45 minutes later, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown had defied her own party, and said she herself had approved the decision.

This is surely a first. Sometimes, in politics, it’s not the action that you perform, but the way you perform it. Brown’s defiance was straight in the face of the Luthuli House, it was brazen, blatant, a real “stuff you” (for the lack of a stronger term, this is not a Trainspotter story) to the party who appointed her. While it is one thing for Zuma to make his party look weak, it is another for a minister. And the ANC had tightened its language by Sunday morning.

On Friday the party was seeking a meeting with Brown, by Sunday morning’s newspapers it was going to order her to either rescind the appointment or dissolve the entire board. This means that the credibility of Luthuli House itself and of people like Gwede Mantashe is absolutely on the line now. The problem with that for Brown is that they will know it, and thus have a greater impetus to act, and also be seen to act.

It’s been said before in this publication that it is important not to let present-day concerns get in the way of the real prize in the ANC at the moment, the December leadership conference. And it is probably still true that removing Zuma is not as important for his critics as ensuring Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma does not win in eight months’ time.

But, with a national executive committee meeting creeping up in just two weeks’ time, this Molefe decision could well give rise to more calls for Zuma to go. At the very least the huge outcry from society will be useful ammunition for those opposed to the president. Especially if you consider that every single act like this must have an impact on the minds of voters ahead of 2019. Considering that several of the people who lost their jobs in the reshuffle still hold their NEC positions, we could be entering a time of greater danger for Zuma than we have seen in the past.

Could be.

There are other questions that need to be answered at this point. Officials from the Moody’s ratings agency, the only major agency not to have downgraded us to junk yet, are due in the country this week. This decision seems almost designed to push them, and us, over the edge. Considering the strange behaviour of the Presidency just before the reshuffle, in confirming in a statement that Zuma had ordered Pravin Gordhan to return home from London while he was talking to investors, you almost have to wonder if this is an act of wilful sabotage.

In the business of making money, like politics, it is probably helpful to ask the question: who benefits?

And then we have the question of desperation and perception. This decision shows that Zuma and Co no longer care about how things look; they’re prepared to look corrupt. This tells us that either they are, for some reason, hugely desperate, or past the point of caring, or both.

It must surely indicate that some kind of yet unknown clock is ticking.

On Saturday morning the new(ish) Minister of Energy Mmamoloko Kubayi said she would not appeal a court ruling scrapping the nuclear power agreements already signed with five countries. But she also appeared to indicate that she will continue with a nuclear energy policy.

Kubayi appears to be one of those people appointed to a high position simply because they are beholden to the person who appointed them, in this case Zuma. It seems very strange indeed to remain silent for two weeks after a court judgment, and then suddenly call a press conference on a Saturday, of all times. To follow the advice of Gordhan and others, and join the dots, is to lead to questions about whether Molefe is needed to push through the nuclear deal. And if that is the case, then we have to ask why it is so important to Zuma. Considering that he sought medical treatment in Russia after allegedly being fed poison by one of his wives, the answer to all of this may well lead to the only head of state who scored six goals in an ice-hockey match last week.

It is also possible that the reason for the desperation is a sense on the part of Zuma that he really is going to lose the power to control events at Eskom and other places in December, that he and those around him are doing this because they feel they have to act now. What’s more, the Molefe gambit suggests we’re going to see more brazen actions soon.

We have predicted before that we, as a nation, were entering a scary time where events were going to be less predictable, where everyone was going to get a little more desperate. We are “there” now. Zuma may be in a corner, in a situation where he has to fight with every weapon he’s got, where he must, absolutely must, have control of resources through the state. When someone is in this position, and when they are prepared to play as rough as Zuma has in the past, and when they have control of the security cluster, it is obvious that our politics is going to get much more dangerous. More casualties are coming our way.

It is important to remember this for the rest of the year. And once we understand that, then we know how dangerous and difficult this is going to be.

And it is no use asking if Zuma worries about the damage this is causing to the ANC, or how this will strengthen a court case against him, or what will happen in 2019. We know his view. Look at his actions. Look at what he approves of. Look at how his people operate.

Zuma does not care anymore.

This column first appeared on Daily Maverick. Go to www.dailymaverick.co.za for more comment and analysis.

Stephen Grootes is the senior political correspondent for Eyewitness News and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. He is the author of 'SA Politics Unspun'. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes

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