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An open letter to Zuma

Former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and advocate Vusi Pikoli, amongst others, have written an open letter to President Jacob Zuma addressing him in light with the finance ministry situation that has flooded social media as the leading trend since last week.

Read the full letter below.

Dear Mr President,

We write to you as concerned citizens in our private capacities, convinced the message in this open letter is shared by millions of South Africans.

We are alarmed by your statement “on the appointment of [a] new finance minister”, issued on Wednesday.

The country’s credit rating has recently been downgraded, with huge implications for borrowing costs and the long-term ability to lend by our financial institutions, a function critical to stimulating economic growth. The rand has reached its lowest levels, with implications for macroeconomic stability.

Tough economic times demand unity of purpose and steadfastness in leadership. We do not think your decision to remove Nhlanhla Nene from his position, under the current economic climate, was prudent.

It is our view that in exercising judgement on matters such as the appointment of a minister of finance, you do so with a view to maintaining confidence in the integrity of your office and to promote South Africa’s standing in the global economy. Nothing from your statement convinces us, Mr President, that what you call “his deployment to another strategic position” will, as the Constitution enjoins you, advance our national interests and the welfare of the country.

This view is informed by the public climate in which confidence in government has been on the wane. Many developments have poisoned our political climate. These include:

* The wasteful and corrupt expenditure at your private residence in Nkandla;

* Strained relations between the executive and the judiciary;

* Problems with corporate governance at the SABC;

* Financial and corporate governance challenges faced by a number of state-owned enterprises, including the SA Post Office and SAA, to name but two; and

* The financial crisis threatening to destroy our higher education institutions.

Your decision to remove Minister Nene from his position has already sent negative signals to the local economy and to the international investor community at large. The damage this is causing to the credibility of the country may take years or even decades to reverse.

Of immediate concern is the growing size of South Africa’s public debt, which will peak at 45.4% of GDP by 2018/19. As you know, Mr President, interest on debt and compensation of 40% have become the largest item of your government’s budget, which is unsustainable.

The New Fiscal Guidelines in the medium-term budget policy statement show there is mounting pressure on government to deliver quality public services to the population, provide free tertiary education and invest in infrastructure to stimulate growth in the economy. As indicated in the budget statement, we fear resources to do so may be inadequate, and the country may be forced to borrow more and be unable to do so because of its poor credit rating.

We appeal that Treasury be insulated from political expedience, especially because this is the most important institution to safeguard macroeconomic stability, a prime driver of confidence in the economy, and a critical agency to guarantee fiscal sustainability for future generations.

South Africans are divided over the use of nuclear as a source of energy. The world is exploring renewable sources of energy. If government pursues nuclear, it is important that at all times constitutional obligations and the public procurement rules that government has set for itself are observed.

We are aware Treasury had misgivings about, among other things, the costing of the nuclear build programme, insisting it should pass muster with the Public Finance Management Act. We urge prudence and parsimony with regard to public finances. This is why we express concern about the sudden and unexplained removal of a minister who seemed to be erring on the side of caution.

Mr President, at a conference of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, you made public your opinion that the ANC comes first, and South Africa second. You defended this view in Parliament, the heart of our constitutional democracy. We understand your party is important to you, but placing it before the country has left many of us doubting if the Constitution is in safe hands.

We are mindful that we have no power to remove you from your position, but we would like you to know that leaders who take their citizens for granted do so at their own peril. In the end, citizens prevail.

Mr President, keep in mind that leadership is more than the authority of an office; it is more about the moral and ethical integrity of the person who occupies the office.

We write to you with the sole intention of making you aware that we are gravely concerned about the manner in which you are governing us. We find many of your decisions detrimental to the interests of the people.

We do not understand your authority to appoint or dismiss ministers as a licence for you to act against national interests.

Signed by:

Prof. Barney Pityana, Prof. Maxi Schoeman, Dr Ruel Khoza, Dr Mzukisi Qobo, Dr Mills Soko, Mr Mavuso Msimang, Mr Zwelinzima Vavi, Mr Mark Heywood, Mr Vusi Pikoli, Mr Bonang Mohale, Mr Prince Mashele, Mr Lawson Naidoo, Mr Lumkile Mondi, Mr Brutus Malada, Mr Miles Giljam, Mr Moss Ntlha, Mr Koffi Kouakou, Mr Luthando Tyhalibongo, Ms Wandisile Mdepa, Mr David Lewis and Mr Mthozami Xiphu.