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[OPINION] The PIC is the next frontier in looting

Quite where the truth lies regarding the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) is anyone’s guess.

On Tuesday Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, his deputy Sifiso Buthelezi and PIC chair Dan Matjila put on a united front. The PIC funds would not be used to bail out SAA and other failing state-owned enterprises (SOEs), they said. This after weekend reports quoting Matjila as saying Gigaba and Buthelezi wanted ‘the keys to the safe’. EFF leader Julius Malema has also been tweeting ominously about plans to rid the PIC of Matjila and replace him. Matjila has said his comments were misconstrued.

But can we really trust what Gigaba says? We may be well-advised not to be complacent for where there is smoke, there is the proverbial fire.

To understand the situation fully one needs to go back to the axing of former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. We have still not been given any coherent reason why these two competent individuals were fired. What we do know is that they stood as a bulwark against the capture of state-owned enterprises. Both Gordhan and Jonas were disinclined to use more public money to prop up corrupt, mismanaged SOEs such as Eskom and SAA until corporate governance improved and corrupt managers were fired.

As Gordhan indicated when the possibly captured Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown appeared before Parliament, the issue is crisp - there are those who seek to loot the state for private gain and such corruption needed to be arrested. For whatever reason, Brown does not exercise the appropriate oversight over the Eskom Board - she is either unable or unwilling to do so.

Enter Gigaba and Buthelezi - both men compromised; Gigaba by his association with the Guptas and Buthelezi tainted by his stint as chair of the Prasa board at a time of unbridled mismanagement and corruption. Buthelezi, as deputy Finance Minister, is chair of the PIC. Gigaba, it would seem, is pressuring Matjila to lend the state billions to bail out SAA. The sale of a stake in Telkom has also been thrown in for good measure. The PIC controls R1.9 trillion of government pension fund money.

Last week allegations also surfaced about alleged corruption by Matjila. They seemed to surface on a fake news site linked to Gayton McKenzie and Kenny Kunene. Extraordinary stories have emerged of these convicted criminals and their ties to President Zuma.

Matjila seems to have survived these allegations - for now. But he will be the subject of an internal investigation it seems. Let us make no mistake; the PIC is the next frontier in looting. If there was any doubt why Gordhan and Jonas were axed, we need doubt no longer.

Most often in South Africa in recent years we have seen how this kind of story ends. The person standing in the way of those who wish to raid the kitty gets fired to make way for a corrupt, compromised individual. Granted, the PIC entered into an unwise deal to prop up Independent Newspapers a few years ago, but in general, Matjila has been a capable CEO.

But there is something even more deeply disturbing about this potential raid on the PIC. That we are even speculating about such an unthinkable prospect is spine-chilling, even in these Zuma years where anything seems possible. It is quite clear that continuing to bail out failing enterprises which enter dodgy deals and are headed by those who act as conduits for corruption, amounts to financial mismanagement of the highest order.

The implications are far-reaching for ordinary workers who serve the country in the most important of ways. Policemen and women, teachers and all government employees should be taking to the streets as a warning to Zuma and his corrupt acolytes that their pensions are not to be gambled with. Gigaba and Buthelezi are playing fast and loose with government employees’ futures.

There is a sacred pact - a bond of trust - between the state and its employees, that at the end of their working years they will indeed recoup that which they have paid into their pension funds. That trust is absolutely fundamental to the security of those who work for the state. That Zuma and his merry band are even contemplating such looting is callous beyond words and shows that we have now reached a new level of urgency as regards mobilising against this state capture.

Citizens cannot wait until December and a magical outcome at the ANC conference. None will be forthcoming. The ANC, as Makhosi Khoza says, cannot self-correct. The best we can hope for is a compromise candidate emerging in December and stemming the chaos. Thereafter, what happens is anyone’s guess.

Of course, December may not bode well at all - a cancelled conference, a proxy presidency under Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or a split within the ANC and the concomitant rupture of the South African political environment are all on the menu of options right now.

Cosatu, ironically weakened by the very factionalism within the ANC, called for the ‘mother of all strikes’ against state capture. There will need to be far more cross-sectoral activism to stop the endemic looting. Now is the time to bring the economy to a standstill and protest as citizens did in South Korea and Brazil and which brought down a president.

The message has to be clear - government employees’ pensions are not up for grabs.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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