IF FINANCE Minister Pravin Gordhan is arrested, it will be tantamount to a declaration of war, and President Jacob Zuma’s judgment will be subjected to unprecedented critique.
Casualties will include the currency, the country’s diminishing democratic reputation, the sovereign rating, the poor — and eventually Zuma himself.
Much of his political career has been spent pursuing alternative self-education exercises that have led to his convictions on power, women and morality.
That he is intent on making an enemy of the markets — something he does not and cannot understand — indicates a poor capacity for reasonable analysis, which is often the result of rebellious life journeys.
Zuma’s skills are narrow and localised, helpful at most in filling Cabinet, the managements of state-owned enterprises and prosecuting bodies with hopelessly incompetent people, or peddling conspiracies.
Against the weight of financial markets, they are utterly useless.
Zuma is notoriously ignorant of the world’s financial capitals, especially London. On his occasional visits, he is shielded by a raft of attachés desperate to impress their number one.
It’s unlikely he would have read any of the city’s publications, frequented its restaurants and even less so its members’ clubs. He has probably never set a foot in the Square Mile.
In his interactions with Whitehall, he would have encountered protocol mandarins, and it is perhaps this profile — the balding, stooped, silver-tongued Englishman — he recognises as the same aggressor his ancestors faced and the adversary who weakened him in December 2015.
He could not be more wrong.
That many of the fund managers, traders and analysts who participated in December’s currency and stock bloodbath were born in places such as Estonia, China or Bangladesh is irrelevant.
What is relevant is that they are employed only on their ability to mitigate the risks of their employer’s investments.
Zuma’s comments on the unimpressive Des van Rooyen expose him as having paid no attention to examples such as Greece’s economic crisis as recently as last year, so he missed how German financiers managed to seize that country by the throat — this time without a single Panzer tank.
These people don’t inflict pain with spears or spies or frenzied warriors. Just with a Bloomberg terminal.
Zuma knows only enough about the global financial crisis of 2008-09 to maintain it as an excuse for the poor performance of the South African economy.
He might have noted to what extent rogue traders nearly broke the world, but in his haste to swallow the Treasury, he has failed to link the most important illustration of their strength to current circumstance and potential consequence.
In the end, it was these financiers’ own governments that rescued their jobs and bonuses.
Apart from one or two cosmetic prosecutions, nothing happened to them.
Whereas Zuma barely succeeds in perverting justice, these people can make it disappear, as though it never existed.
Of course, there is impunity here to match Zuma’s own — but regrettably for him, the markets and their masters are flaws that are more acceptable to progress. I imagine being told he is the greater devil enrages and confuses him.
A colleague told me about an incident that occurred in April 2009, when the offices of her trading firm near St Paul’s Cathedral were surrounded by intimidating protesters against the G-20, banging on the glass and setting fire to effigies.
Her boss walked up to the window to face the angry protesters, took a £50 note out of his pocket, held it aloft and made an ungentlemanly gesture using his thumb and two fingers.
This is the kind of person Zuma will, consciously or not, force into the homes, bank accounts and employment prospects of ordinary South Africans.
The language of the market is plain. Unlike Constitutional Court rulings, it cannot be defiled by semantic trickery.
One daft move from Zuma and the implications will be so clear and so severe that even his most loyal and aggressive supporters — those who walk dusty roads in yellow T-shirts, carrying food parcels — will one day come to realise that the instigation of their misery came from a place least expected, from a man who had not the faintest idea what he was doing.