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Sun Oct 23 09:53:00 SAST 2016

Understanding South Africa: A guide for ratings agencies

Ray Hartley | 17 March, 2016 00:46
WELCOMING COMMITTEE: Residents of Zandspruit, in Honeydew, Johannesburg, took to the streets yesterday to protest against the dismantling of illegal electricity connections

To assist ratings agencies such as Moody's, which is currently visiting this country to assess its credit-worthiness, The Times publishes the following guide to key persons and institutions.

PRAVIN GORDHAN: The finance minister was appointed by Jacob Zuma in December after the country, up to and including the leadership of the ruling ANC, rebelled against the appointment of Des van Rooyen, a full-time university student and part-time MP, to the position. Gordhan is the subject of an investigation by Zuma's security firm, the Hawks, for his role in setting up a "rogue" intelligence agency to spy on people who didn't pay tax. Apparently the non-rogue intelligence agencies had been doing a splendid job until he came along. Gordhan could be arrested at any moment for not replying to an e-mail, so you want to get your meeting with him in early.

JACOB ZUMA: A property developer, playboy and family business tycoon, Zuma somehow also manages to squeeze in being president of South Africa on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You will be pleased to know that Zuma has embraced the modern business practice of outsourcing and has all his cabinet members and the heads of state-owned enterprises appointed by a consultancy operating out of Saxonwold. In the event that you get some face-time with him be aware that he may laugh at any time, especially when confronted by a serious question. Actually, you might just want to cut out the middleman and meet the consultancy in Saxonwold.

THABO MBEKI: Like some sort of inverted Deepak Chopra, Mbeki is the country's tormented public intellectual. Mbeki was president until he made himself so unpopular that the country thought "What the hell, let the consultancy in Saxonwold have a turn! They couldn't be worse, right?" Mbeki runs a website on which all the questions are asked with exclamation marks. For example: "We ask: why does this syndrome only affect Africans!" Although not royalty, Mbeki's use of the royal "we" is tolerated by the public.

JULIUS MALEMA: Once Zuma's personal bodyguard who once threatened to "kill" for him, Malema is now "commander-in-chief" of the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF is founded on the desire to humiliate, ridicule and undermine Zuma while enforcing a left version of the North Korean economic doctrine in the suburb of Sandton. Malema thinks Gordhan's budget was just brilliant. It's complicated.

THE HAWKS: Zuma's private security firm, this elite crime fighting unit was established to stop the fight against crimes committed by the elite. They replaced The Scorpions, which was disbanded after the consultancy in Saxonwold discovered they were intent on bringing 700 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering against Zuma. The Hawks spend most of their time writing letters to Gordhan or prosecuting someone called Robert McBride because he let someone called Anwar Dramat off the hook. Again, it's complicated. South Africa is hoping fervently that you won't meet the Hawks. Or be arrested by them.

SARS: Responsible for collecting taxes from all South Africans. Except those that have persuaded it not to do so. We don't know who these people are because it is illegal for SARS to reveal the tax affairs of an individual. Gordhan used to head SARS and now the Hawks are investigating him for setting up a "rogue unit" as discussed above. SARS is headed by Tom Moyane, the only civil servant more powerful than Zuma.

THE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN: Known as the NDP to its worshippers, this plan has mythic, religious status and is mentioned in hushed tones by almost all political and business leaders. But, like most religions, its adherents seldom apply its humane dictums in practice. One of its commandments is that "The economy shalt be built upon the attraction of holy capital which shall trickle down," but this is frequently ignored by church elders who take the capital out of the donation plate for themselves.

THE NEW GROWTH PATH: Although enjoying almost as much mythic status as the NDP religion, the NGP sect has a different mantra: "The economy shalt be constructed at the behest of the state which shall be worshipped by all lenders in the temple." President Zuma has steadfastly refused to choose between these two religions, apparently believing that they should just learn to get along. This has led to some consternation among worshippers.

THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT: This court was established in 1994 in case the government ever started doing crazy stuff at some point in the future. We have now reached "some point in the future" and the court spends much of its time dealing with crazy stuff that Zuma is doing. The judges are presently deciding whether or not to issue a declaration that Zuma violated his oath of office when he had a swimming pool built at taxpayers' expense. And a chicken run. And a cattle enclosure. I know, right?

PARLIAMENT: The country's most popular and long-running soap-opera now entering its 22nd year. The cast has changed on several occasions and some characters such as President Zuma have even come back from the dead, but the public can't get enough of the spectacle. A good way to kick back with a Castle between meetings.


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