President Jacob Zuma’s institutional destruction has now reached critical mass.
There are several antecedents for the current crisis, all of them drawing on the political economy of the wider Zuma circle, which is ultimately what appears to drive the president’s decision-making.
The pattern was laid down in the evidence adduced by the Schabir Shaik trial. Zuma lives beyond his means and then barters his influence for support from business and family cronies who try to make money by trading on his name, his influence, his overt or hinted support.
All this takes place under the fig leaf of transformation, of creating black industrialists, or whatever the current convenient catchphrase.
Zuma is nothing if not ambitious – as are the people who feed off him and feed him in return.
Zuma long ago left behind Shaik and his minority stake in an arms deal subcontractor, which was used to fund Zuma’s first relatively modest (though still unaffordable) Nkandla upgrade.
Now he rubs shoulders with the Guptas, who have their sights on mining, energy and transport interests at a national level. His cohorts, such as nephew Khulubuse, have crisscrossed Africa in his wake, sliding through the doors he has opened.
As the deals and people Zuma has pushed have grown in importance, their potential impact on the economy or on state-run enterprises has gradually brought him into conflict with those whose task it is to manage those assets in the best interests of the nation.
Nowhere is this clearer than at SAA. Zuma’s friend Dudu Myeni has worked her way through an astonishing series of ministers, executives and bailouts.
Nene’s attempt to discipline Myeni is clearly the trigger that caused Zuma to act now. In fact the new SAA board, which might have ditched Myeni, was due to be announced on Thursday.
But the president’s nuclear ambition is the radioactive element in the room.
There is good reason to believe that Nene’s predecessor, Pravin Gordhan, was axed because he refused to accede to Zuma’s demands over nuclear procurement – and over another unaffordable megadeal to have state-owned PetroSA buy Engen.
There are also grounds to believe that Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s predecessor at energy – Ben Martins – was axed because he was too slow to respond to our Russian allies’ nuclear overtures.
Now the geopolitical situation has changed: Russia has other problems and the Chinese chequebook is open for business, including a nuclear deal.
But the treasury has been dragging the nuke dream back to earth. Despite Zuma’s promises to launch a tender process by the end of the year, Nene only set aside R200-million for medium-term technical studies and planning.
It is understood that financial assessments procured and proffered by the treasury have stressed the dangerously high risk and cost of nuclear, despite efforts by Zuma’s nuclear chorus to sing a song of affordability.
On this, too, Nene was holding the line. So he had to go.
The coming economic crisis, which we outline elsewhere, is built on a political crisis in the ruling party and ultimately for the nation.
In sacking Nene, Zuma has demonstrated brutally clearly that he does not care about the common good, about the national interest, only about his own survival and the survival of his personal and quasi-feudal project.
This is clear for anyone to see in the way he has dealt with the National Prosecuting Authority, with the South African Revenue Service, with the public protector, with SAA, with Eskom, with the SABC, with communications policy and now, with the treasury.
It is even, sadly, evident in the way he has dealt with women.
Yet no one in the ANC will stand up to him.
A party built on bravery and sacrifice is now mired in cowardice and avarice. Not a single MP or minister has resigned or even condemned Zuma’s shocking recklessness.
Zuma has betrayed his oath of office and is set to entrench in power a clique for whom the solemn constitutional commitment is simply a display of cynicism.
If the ANC won’t stop him, the country must.