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Prosecution And Praise For Jacob Zuma

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It proved a day short on time in court and big on political posturing and speeches. The former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma’s appearance lasted a mere 10 minutes, on April 6, and the trial postponed until June 8 – yet he managed to make political capital out of his day in court in Durban.

On a bright sunny day in the coastal city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province of South Africa, the former head of state stood trial in his own court. Almost 10 years ago, 10 days after this day, 18 charges on 783 counts of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering were dropped against Jacob Zuma by former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Mokotedi Mpshe.

This decision was said to have been based on the recordings of the so-called ‘spy tapes’, which were presented to Mpshe by Zuma’s legal team. And almost a decade later, Zuma stands trial in the same court for the same charges which were reinstated by now NPA boss Shaun Abrahams.

The court was packed to full capacity with only 25 journalist allowed inside. Media came from all over the country, the continent and the world. Night vigils and pickets were held outside the night before the court case and on the day the case took place, led by different organizations supporting the former president. These organizations included Transform RSA, Black First Land First led by Andile Mngxitama, student groups from various KZN universities and members of the African National Congress (ANC) ruling party who claimed not to be operating under the party’s name.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC made an announcement a week before the trial that members of the party who liked to support Msholozi, as Zuma is affectionately called, could do so in their own personal capacity and not wear any party regalia. However, ANC members who attended actually did the opposite and when asked if they were defying their own party, countered “you cannot have an ANC without Jacob Zuma”.

Thousands of supporters in front of the Durban High Court chanted struggle songs and praised Zuma.

Zuma addressed the crowds after spending close to 15 minutes inside the court room.

“I keep asking them what have I done for them to keep trying to bring me down but they have no answers but one day they will,” he said.

Among the top-ranking ANC officials in KZN was the province’s MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Sihle Zikalala who vowed to aid in defending the former president.

What is clear is that the ANC in KZN is still divided, with its members committing to prove Zuma’s innocence and unseating current president Ramaphosa before the 2019 elections. On the other hand, some others are calling for his prosecution by the court of law.

This case may take years to be concluded and political wars in the province may not augur well for the ANC.

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First African Elected Female Head of State Urges Women to Be Bold

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has an iconic status in Africa and the world. As the first elected female head of state in Africa, she served as the leader of Liberia for two elected terms.

Those terms saw Liberia’s slow and steady march from what was considered a pariah state to a country with what the Mo Ibrahim Foundation calls a “trajectory of progress” that has helped transform its economy, survive the shock of Ebola, and restructure public institutions to respond to the needs of the people.

READ MORE: The People’s President

It is only fitting that FORBES WOMAN AFRICA gets to meet the Nobel Peace Prize winner in Rwanda, a country known for its high representation of women in Parliament, and where Sirleaf is awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership at a special ceremony.

Q. Please share your thoughts on the African Union (AU) self-funding reform goal, the Kaberuka Proposal.
The dependency of the AU on external sources has been the subject of debate for many years, and the thinking of our leaders is that it is better to finance our operations by ourselves and alleviate pressure and dictation from these external sources. On the other hand, we know that to have financial autonomy, every country must be able to contribute consistently. So, the crux of the reform is to change the payment formula and make sure everyone knows they have to pay their part.

When it comes to the Kaberuka suggestion, it meets our objective of financing our organization ourselves. However, it does place a burden on the poorer states… So, our position with the Kaberuka plan is to study it some more so when we commit, we do not fall into arrears. We want to see the reform implemented, and for it to include cost-reduction in structural aspects such as travel and positions etc., thus reducing the burden on poorer countries.

Q: Will Africa really be able to tackle illicit financial flows? And with women being conspicuously absent from financial decision-making, yet being the greatest losers on such issues, how do we tackle these discrepancies?
We have to become more accountable and pass stringent mandates in institutions, as well as instill practical capacity to understand the complexities of these financial transactions. Also, we must implement a legal system that will enforce against such flow violations.

Access for women is difficult even in the case of legitimate flows. Even with a growing manufacturing sector and agri-industrial activities usually manned by women, access is still limited, for rural women particularly.

There is a big effort being put in by different regional institutions; in Liberia’s case, GIABA, the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, has been analyzing the flows and determining what is illicit.
But it is up to women to stand up and put other women in leadership roles, because the record is clear: women are more credit-worthy when it comes to financial transactions, and this suggests the more women there are heading these institutions, the more we can be assured that regulatory laws will be more effective.

READ MORE: ‘Women’s Leadership Is Under Attack Globally’

Q: What are your plans? How would you encourage young women to follow in your footsteps, or even create their own path?
We are establishing the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. The activities will center around five themes that will promote women in business; women in leadership; women in fragile states; women in migration; and education for women and girls. We will use the life experiences of women who have excelled in these areas. For the young women, I say to all, be self-confident and pursue your goals…Let us be bold as women.

– Interviewed by Laura Rwiliriza

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Zuma’s gone. Let’s go!

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Jacob Zuma

Africa’s most robust and developed economy is on the cusp of an economic revival after the long-awaited change of guard at the top.

South Africa’s economy has struggled against downgrades by the ratings agencies and a flight of foreign investors in several difficult years that have left the country with miniscule growth.

The big obstacle to change was President Jacob Zuma whose unpopularity and poor management of the economy, amid clouds of corruption allegations, threatened to bury the once all powerful African National Congress (ANC). In the good times, a decade ago, when the economy was growing at a healthy 5%, the leaders of the ANC boasted they would rule until Jesus came back. The penny slowly dropped for the party faithful that if economic times got steadily harder, feeding a rising opposition, the party may struggle to rule until the end of the next elections in 2019.

Pressure for change came from even the most die-hard ANC members for Zuma to resign. He refused; the party bigwigs gave him a deadline and at the eleventh hour, just before midnight on February 14, he did so live on TV. In many ways, he had little choice; his party comrades were plotting to throw him out through a humiliating vote of no confidence in Parliament, in Cape Town, also live on TV. He would also have lost his pension, security and benefits in the process.

READ MORE: Zuma’s time is up – but does it mean for South Africa

For a former head of intelligence, Zuma appeared strangely out of touch with what people were thinking.

“What have I done?” was his reaction to the decision by the ANC to recall him. A cursory flick through the business pages of the newspapers would have told him: Job losses and unemployment running at more than one in four; falling business confidence and tales of millions of taxpayers’ money slushing into private pockets rather than public projects.

Into the breach stepped Cyril Ramaphosa, the former deputy president who was sworn in as the country’s new leader, in Cape Town on February 15, with a promise to clean up and pep up the economy. He is seen as the business friendly president and a pragmatic negotiator with vast experience from the picket line to the boardroom.

“Issues to do with corruption, issues of how we can straighten out our state-owned enterprises and how we deal with ‘state capture’ are issues that are on our radar screen,” says Ramaphosa as he was elected as president, unopposed, in Parliament.

READ MORE: What the lack of accountability for Marikana says about Zuma’s government

Many of the business leaders I have spoken to, from Davos to Johannesburg, agree that if Ramaphosa turns his words into action they will invest with confidence.

“You are going to see millions of dollars flooding into this country in the next six months,” says Gary Booysen of Rand Swiss in Johannesburg.

The markets appeared to agree and surged with the rand. The currency reached highs not seen since May 2015, the last halcyon days of the economy. Three days of madness, in December 2015, put paid to that when Zuma sacked respected finance minister, Nhanlha Nene, replaced him with rookie Des Van Rooyen the next day and him, under duress, with former finance minister Pravin Gordhan the day after. The president sacked Gordhan in March 2017 and replaced him with another rookie Malusi Gigaba – the rand and confidence plunged, as did the ratings.

Ramaphosa – a multi-millionaire who has made his money from black empowerment and shrewd business decisions – wants a legacy of being the man who helped his country out of the mire. He has deep roots in the liberation movement and anyone who knows him will tell you he would want to be remembered as the best leader of his country since Nelson Mandela.

Anyone who has their money and pension tied up in South Africa will hope that he does so.

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South Africa’s budget: first steps towards a recovery, but at what cost?

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Malusi Gigaba

The 2018 Budget, presented by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba in Parliament, lays out the painful consequences of the country’s public finances for South Africans.

The National Treasury’s proposal of an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) – a tax applied to most items consumers buy – from 14% to 15% is the most dramatic of these consequences. Because it’s a tax paid by all citizens, putting it up by 1 percentage point raises concerns about the negative effects on the poorest households.

The Budget also proposes that tax brackets for the highest-earning 1 million taxpayers will not be adjusted for inflation, which effectively increases income taxes for these taxpayers.

Another sign of the distress the country’s finances are in came in the form of proposed cuts to government infrastructure spending, especially at local and provincial government level. The need for expenditure cuts is exacerbated by the fact that the budget supports former president Jacob Zuma’s commitment to provide free higher education for a greater number of students. The minister said that the policy would be phased-in, with the Budget indicating that the cost rises from R12bn to R24bn over the next three years. But there are reasons to believe the cost could be higher.

Whether measures announced by Gigaba will stave off a downgrade of South Africa’s local currency debt by the one remaining rating agency remains to be seen. While the ascension of Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency has provided hope that pressure on public finances will be reduced by the state being better managed, it will take years to significantly improve the current situation.

READ MORE: Zuma’s time is up – but does it mean for South Africa

A substantial shift

In October last year Gigaba painted a grim picture of South Africa’s public finances in the 2017 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement. With an expected R50bn shortfall in tax revenue he indicated that national debt would increase rapidly – contrary to repeated earlier promises to “stabilise” debt levels.

The 2018 Budget reflects a substantial shift from this position. The new plan is to return to a strategy of “debt consolidation”: reducing the speed at which national debt increases relative to the size of the economy, so that within a few years it begins to decline.

Debt will still increase to levels higher than promised in numerous previous budgets, but significantly slower than suggested in October. Reducing the rate at which the government borrows requires raising more money from taxes and decreasing planned government expenditure. But this is even more difficult to do because of Zuma’s announcement of “free higher education” – which happened after the medium term budget statement.

Essentially, expanded free higher education means a combination of more taxes, more spending and more borrowing.

READ MORE: ‘The People want Action

Some notable proposals

It is important to remember that, by law, the budget is actually a set of proposals – even though the National Treasury and Minister of Finance almost always get their way. The proposals are only fully legally binding once they have been approved by Parliament. If citizens are not happy with certain proposals there are still opportunities in Parliament to challenge them.

Some of the proposals that deserve attention are:

1. The impact of VAT increase: Of all the major taxes available, VAT is the least “progressive”. It is paid to a much greater extent by the poor and vulnerable than personal income tax or corporate tax. It is arguably for this reason, in the context of South Africa’s high rates of income and wealth inequality, that VAT has not been increased since 1994.

The increase has been defended on the grounds that other options (personal and corporate income tax) are increasingly strained and VAT is the least harmful to economic growth. The claim about economic growth is debatable: it depends on assumptions about how the economy works. And although the budget claims that social grants have been increased to try and offset the negative impact, the overall effect remains unclear. It seems likely that most poor households will experience additional hardship.

2. Free higher education: The budget repeatedly states that the costs of Zuma’s free higher education announcement “remain uncertain”. This is strange and probably reflects the fact that Zuma violated normal budget protocol by almost unilaterally announcing the policy change without adequate consultation or analysis of the likely costs. Nevertheless, it is surprising that the budget does not provide more detail.

The budget indicates additional government expenditure of R12.4 billion in 2018/19, increasing rapidly to R20.3 billion in 2019/20 and R24.3 billion in 2020/21 as the policy is rolled out beyond just first year students. But these numbers look optimistic. Treasury does not explain what it has assumed about the number of students needing support and how much support will be provided.

3. Expenditure cuts: The budget proposes R85 billion in cuts to planned government spending over the next three years. It’s hard to tell what the implications of spending cuts really are just from looking at the numbers and explanation in the budget. Nevertheless, a couple of things are clear.

Firstly the cuts affect infrastructure spending in particular: about R40 billion is cut. In some ways this is understandable. But it’s also dangerous because these decisions seem, for now, less harmful than they really are. That’s because South Africa’s economic and social infrastructure is already a matter of concern and the additional negative consequences of underspending will only be noticed years down the line.

Secondly the cuts are targeted at provincial and local government: R28 billion will be cut in grants given to local and provincial governments for various infrastructure programmes. This is also concerning given the importance of service delivery at these levels.

READ MORE: The ANC has a new leader but South Africa remains on a political precipice

The gaps

The National Treasury needs to provide more information on why the decision was taken to increase VAT, and what the implications are likely to be. This is important because the move raises concerns about the effects on poorer and more vulnerable South Africans.

A detailed explanation of the likely costs of the proposed policy to expand free higher education also needs to be provided. The absence of this information raises concerns about whether Treasury has allocated enough money for this policy and, if not, whether universities may be left to deal with the consequences of insufficient funding for students who have been promised free higher education.

Finally, the attitude of the National Treasury in recent budgets has been that provinces and municipalities simply need to become more efficient and must fulfil their obligations with fewer resources. But what if that’s not possible? The Treasury can’t wash its hands of the negative consequences of cuts to critical areas of service delivery.

In conclusion, the Budget represents progress since last year when Zuma and his cabinet effectively sat on their hands and refused to take any difficult decisions. At least proposals have now been made to stabilise the national debt. Whether they represent the best solutions to our public finance challenges is a matter for public debate. – Written by Seán Mfundza Muller, Senior Lecturer in Economics and Research Associate at the Public and Environmental Economics Research Centre (PEERC), University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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