29/08/2017 13:51 SAST | Updated 30/08/2017 08:34 SAST

NDZ: Uninspired, Uninvolved And Quite Possibly Unstoppable

When Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma delivers a speech she does it in a robotic, automated way. And she won't touch difficult issues.

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Towards the end of the question and answer session with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Tuesday at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in Johannesburg she said: "I'm not a person of surprises."

Her answer was in response to a question on which government policies would change should she become head of state, with reference to ownership of land and capital, monopolies and the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). The audience of businesspeople, market analysts, economists, students and a smattering of reporters – up until then rather subdued – chuckled hesitantly in an effort to elicit some form of warmth or personality from the presidential hopeful.

There was nothing.

She was deadpan, staring straight ahead, with the same expression on her face as she had for the 47 minutes she took to run through the talking points she used as a stump speech. Behind her stood four bodyguards, stern and stoney-faced, much like their principal. "NDZ", as her supporters style her, groaned and agonized her way through the speech, rarely looking up, never engaging the audience and limiting off the cuff remarks to a select few issues.

The role of the private sector and government in job-creation and poverty alleviation, the importance of skills development, state-owned enterprises (SOE's), black economic empowerment, the blue and green economies, infrastructure, the macro-economic environment, women and the financial sector were all subjects that were breached. And although she briefly referred to radical economic transformation, much of what she said wasn't radical or new at all.

Dlamini-Zuma berated big business, "flush with cash", for not investing in the country's economy, while government has to manage a growing budget deficit. But she said nothing about policy uncertainty and political upheavals which forces investors to think twice.

She said SOE's "must be governed properly" and that directors should take their fiduciary duties seriously. But she said nothing about the dire state of most of them or the fact that they have become feeding troughs for a connected elite.

Of course, the audience at GIBS' swanky campus in upmarket Illovo, where cappuccinos are served on tap and an eco-friendly car wash service cleans students' cars in the covered parking garage, aren't the ones who will be electing the next leader of the ANC.

She said government and the civil service needs to have "passion" for their jobs, they need to have "passion" in serving the needs of the people. But she said nothing about the vast shadow state and the eco-system of corruption and patronage that has become state capture.

And the last two subjects were only breached after she was pertinently asked about it and protected from further scrutiny by Professor Nicola Kleyn, the dean of the business school, who shut down City Press's Justin Brown when he asked whether she would have bailed out the South African Airways for R10-billion, like government intends to do.

Dlamini-Zuma's speech was delivered from a parallel universe, one in which a new government leadership can tweak or adapt existing policies in order to improve outcomes: jack up teacher training colleges, implement economic sectoral advisory bodies and shift BEE into an entrepreneurship gear. It however failed to acknowledge the deep and toxic political problems South Africa faces and which contaminates almost everything in society: endemic corruption, government inefficiency and institutional decline.

Of course, the audience at GIBS' swanky campus in upmarket Illovo, where cappuccinos are served on tap and an eco-friendly car wash service cleans students' cars in the covered parking garage, aren't the ones who will be electing the next leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in December. That falls to ANC branch delegates from the provinces and they still have to be identified. And that's the market she wants to reach. NDZ probably only vaguely cares about the GIBS audience. If at all.

So what does she tell the branch delegates when she woos them? The answer might lay in the copy of her GIBS speech that was distributed as the official text, but which bore almost no resemblance to the one actually delivered. In that speech a much more belligerent Dlamini-Zuma nails her colours firmly to the Bell Pottinger/Gupta mast.

"That is why it remains so important to us to recognise, without prevarication, that white monopoly capital still controls the destiny of the majority of black South Africans . . . South Africa will be transformed from a country belonging to and exploited by a small minority of white capitalists and their imperialist backers, into a country belonging to all who live in it, black and white," the text reads.

But it really goes off on a tangent when it says: "We must ensure the SARB will not hold on to an amorphous 'independency', but has as its clear and deliberate task to implement the developmental policies of the people's orientated developmental plan of the majority ANC government."

This is not a press conference . . . I will speak to you laterNkosazana Dlamini Zuma to journalists.

And later: "I reiterate again that it just simply cannot any longer be allowed that the SARB be policy independent from government. The SARB must be aligned to support and implement government economic transformation policy."

Among other things.

When the sweetheart-question and answer session (replete with a planted question from one of her campaigners) finished, Dlamini-Zuma was mobbed by reporters, the majority of them foreign correspondents from the likes of the London Times, Reuters and The Economist. It was the only time her expression changed and she became angry: "This is not a press conference . . . I will speak to you later," she irritably told journalists before she was rescued by the faux debonaire Carl Niehaus.

Dlamini-Zuma might be wholly uninspiring and uninvolved, but she has the institutional support of large parts of the ANC machinery and her campaign is guided by some of the smarter people in the party's upper echelons. She might just be unstoppable.