14/03/2017 06:06 SAST | Updated 14/03/2017 09:14 SAST

Deputy Finance Minister Jonas Thinks The Bad Guys Are Winning

The deputy minister of finance is clearly not worried about his political future and speaks like a man liberated.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas (right) and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The scales are still tipped in favour of rentseekers and state capture, Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas said on Monday night, imploring actors in civil society to join and protect democracy.

He told a packed gathering at University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg he doesn't want to make the audience "depressed", but that the difference between successful and failing countries is leadership: "We need remarkable leadership."

Jonas spoke like a man liberated from fears that he might be fired by President Jacob Zuma and, for the umpteenth time since budget week in February, gave a frank and bare-knuckled assessment of the political economy.

Jonas's position has been rumoured to be under threat from new ANC MP Brian Molefe, the former Eskom boss also said to be close to the Guptas.

He said:

  • South Africans need to "connect the dots" in front of their eyes;
  • Rentseeking and corruption threaten democratic institutions and that South Africans must be "unified" in protecting them "before it's too late";
  • Economic growth has not been "privatised" enough;
  • Government should have done better, especially with state-owned enterprises;
  • The message from government has often been "confusing, contradictory and often foolish";
  • Populism is a problem: "It's nice, you can identify problems without giving solutions".

Jonas candidly talking about events surrounding an alleged offer of a ministerial posting made to him by the Guptas, the controversial Saxonwold family who profess to be close to Zuma.

According to him, the scales are still still tipped in favour of the rentseekers and those who aim to capture the state. He said that business, civil society and the media must work together to "preserve this country's democratic gains".

He was asked by 702's Stephen Grootes, who led the discussion, about the finance minister job offer and R600,000 cash made by Atul Gupta. Jonas reported it to the public protector and to the African National Congress (ANC). The public protector investigated it, while the ANC have not said or done anything about it. The Guptas have disputed Jonas' contention.

"This [state capture] is a phenomenon that we all should be aware of. The bigger issue is the relationship between the state and business ... on which platform should they engage one another?" he asked.

"The problem of course is that in countries where rentseeking is the main form of wealth-creation there is no real growth and institutions are eroded. In South Africa the scales are still tipped in their favour, and we must reverse that," he said. Rentseeking is a term that denotes the looting of state resources by patronage and the elite," Jonas said.

"This is where the role of the media is so important. How can it be that the media reports on events such as this but there are no consequences, that nothing happens?" he asked.

He added the answer to combating state capture and renteeking was a more activist society where all civil actors were engaged in defending democracy and institutions that were "under assault".

When asked about the fiasco around the payment of social grants, the neglect of the department of social development to adhere to the constitutional court's direction and how it fits in with broader developments, Jonas said: "We must begin to connect the dots."

"We must ask ourselves why [Finance Minister] Pravin Gordhan is charged, and then why those charges were dropped. What does this picture tell us, what is the political moment? As South Africans we must look at and consider the events as they happen around us. There must be a real determination to understand it," Jonas said.

The deputy minister said corruption obstructed economic progress and constrains growth.

"There is an asset-grabbing mindset that permeates through the whole of the country ... corruption, rentseekers, it happens in the dark, away from people. We need the whole of society to fight this, otherwise it might be too late when you realise what's actually happening," he said.