South Africa, Politics

2016: Back from the brink – The Year of Living with Clarity

By Marianne Thamm 14 December 2016

It began early, with Nenegate in December 2015, and ended with the bright light of accountability being shone on the depth of the Capture of the State, including at the SABC. And while 2016 might rightly be regarded as THE most horribilis of all anni both internationally and locally, the upside is the underlying malevolent matrix of power that seeks to undermine South Africa’s democracy has been exposed. Lines have been drawn, sides have been chosen, the protagonists unmasked; now Everybody Knows. 2017 and beyond is bound to see the final battle for the soul of the ruling party and the principles of constitutional democracy. By MARIANNE THAMM.

There is a common perception that during a near-death episode, the life of the dying individual plays out before them as they hurtle towards oblivion; 2016 was the year South Africa experienced yet another such near-death experience – and we have had many “five minutes to midnight moments” in our recent history, the most notable being the slaying of the dragon that was apartheid.

But in 2016, this year of clarity, and thanks in no small amount to the determined and blatant throttling of the lifeblood of democracy by President Jacob Zuma and his squadron of Praetorian guards, South African citizens were offered life support through the country’s courts, the relentless efforts of opposition parties, brave whistle-blowers, civil society, gatvol members of the ANC itself, the media and – most important – through the ballot box.

The responses by members of Parliament’s multiparty ad hoc committee of inquiry into the SABC during the closing days of 2016 and which has revealed the depth and extent of state capture, are perhaps an apt metaphor for many who have been living in a state of denial for so long.

How did we get here?” “How did we allow this” “Who is behind this all?”.

This is more or less what MPs keep asking after sitting through a deluge of shocking and outrageous accounts of how Hlaudi Motsoeneng came to be a law unto himself, and how most stood by and watched the horror show or aided and abetted it.

Many South Africans had been shooting flares into the body politic for some time, warning that honorary pastor, President Jacob Zuma, is administering the last rites over the country’s constitutional democracy.

But there have been many guardian angels – a fair amount who have been punished, excommunicated, exiled and left unemployed. In this squadron we count former members of the SARS executive including Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg, Adrian Lackay, and others who paid a high price sticking to principle in the face of a shock and awe campaign.

There are many others, and we name here only a few, including the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law – who both brought important court cases challenging the abuse of power this year, CASAC, Corruption Watch, Section 27, Accountability Now, the Black Sash, R2K, the Save the SABC campaign and notably the Save South Africa Campaign which began mobilising en masse after the release of the State of Capture report and the Zuma government’s attempts at stifling it.

There have been warnings, for years, over widespread corruption and cronyism – at Prasa, Eskom, SAA, PetroSA – but few seemed able to stem the tide or stop the looters who appeared to behave as if they had protection from above. Few knew how it all worked, the dots had not yet been joined as they have been now, at the close of 2016.

It appears hearing evidence, at first hand, at the SABC inquiry – which will continue into 2017 – from talented and hard-working professionals who have been targeted, threatened, and sidelined, provided a sort of shock treatment for MPs, particularly those in the ANC, who appear to finally surfacing from a long coma.

These are the same Members of Parliament who allowed the President, through his proxies, to ram through Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko’s sham Nkandla report in an attempt to discredit that of the former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela.

In the end the Constitutional Court in March offered a damning judgment, with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruling that President Zuma had violated his oath of office and that Parliament, as well as Speaker Baleka Mbete, had failed to uphold the Constitution.

These are the same MPs, those in the ruling party, who voted against two motions of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma. But the pendulum is swinging among the ranks of ANC MPs in the National Assembly – led by ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu – towards accountability.

The Nkandla ConCourt judgment in March was a turning point. Just a month earlier, in February, the blunt anti-democratic instruments stepped out of the shadows when a concerted campaign was launched to intimidate and remove Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

It was in February that the “irrationally appointed” Hawks head, Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, personally led the assault on Gordhan with scarcely a care in the world for the damage it wreaked on the country’s economy and credibility.

Gordhan fought back and in the end won when a second set of spurious charges – driven by Ntlemeza and the Hawks – were withdrawn by a sheepish NPA head Shaun Abrahams who had been a tad over-zealous in batting for his side when he originally announced he was charging the finance minister.

In this matter a SARS official, Vlok Symington – who had signed off on Ivan Pillay’s early retirement, a matter for which the Hawks sought to charge Gordhan, Pillay and former SARS Commissioner Oupa Magashula with fraud – emerged as an accidental hero.

This was also the year that the attempted capture of SARS by Zuma’s appointee, Commissioner Tom Moyane, was exposed. A purge of experienced investigative staff and a massive overhaul of the revenue service has crippled its capacity to go after those who seek to avoid scrutiny and pay their dues.

It was the Financial Intelligence Centre that alerted Moyane to the fact that his second-in-command, Jonas Makwakwa, and his girlfriend, another SARS employee, Kelly-Ann Elskie, had been depositing R1.2-million into their private bank accounts. The Hawks are not investigating this – instead SARS has appointed an external legal firm. Makwakwa is currently on suspension but do not be surprised if he makes a comeback in 2017.

But Gordan kept steady and helped the country to ward off several potentially devastating downgrades while the President and his minions continued the onslaught.

The security cluster, particularly Ministers of State Security David Mahlobo and Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko, continued to allegedly act outside of the law with Nhleko suspending IPID head Robert McBride only to find his actions had been unlawful.

Nhleko too has gifted the country with the appointment of Ntlemeza, an appointment which is currently being challenged in the courts as the head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation has been ruled by a judge to be a “liar” and “dishonest”.

On Mahlobo’s watch the media revealed that State Security Agents had been instrumental is setting up a rival union at Marikana, that the head of Lonmin’s HR and ranking executive during Marikana massacre, Barnard Mokwena, was a State Security Operative, that the SSA officers had searched the offices of SABC staff, that the agency had been spying on students during #FeesMustFall protests, and that it had played a role in destabilising SARS.

This was the year that the ruling party lost in local government elections in August the key metros and economic hubs, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg to the Democratic Alliance. This is also the year that young leaders, Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane, set about outwitting the somnolent and geriatric ANC.

The State of Capture report which the outgoing Public Protector completed before exiting her term in October further cleaved open the networks that have been siphoning off public funds to bless those in close proximity to the president with exorbitant wealth under the guise of transformation and empowerment.

In spite of highly-paid public relations campaigns and paid Twitter’s attempt at spinning an alternative narrative that it was indeed White Minority Capital that was feeding at the trough, it didn’t wash. The public had eyes to see who had shot up the “richest” list – the Gupta family and others courtesy of their political connections,

This was the year that good people – many of them including Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas, MP Vytjie Mentor, former GCIS head Themba Maseko – fought back. There are countless more of these good people, those who have the interest of the country at heart, who are among the ranks of the SAPS (many of them former MK members), inside SARS, where a full frontal attack is still in progress, in the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) which is responsible for looking after at least 17-million of the country’s most vulnerable and which has blown R1-billion in fruitless expenditure, and in the country’s judiciary.

This is the year when the audacity and scope of the capture by the Gupta family and the realisation that the President and his protectors and allies have sold the country to the highest bidder was finally revealed.

This was the year that one of the country’s biggest unions, the National Health Education & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), called, along with many other authoritative voices including ANC veterans, for President Jacob Zuma to step down.

This was the year that Fezekile Kuzwayo, “Khwezi”, whose life was plunged into chaos after she had dared to accuse Jacob Zuma, whom she had known from the age of six, of raping her, suddenly died in October.

This was the year that her bravery and spirit were marked, symbolically, in front of the man she once called uncle, Jacob Zuma, as he delivered the Local Government elections’ results, announcing the loss by the ANC of key metros.

Four women stood silently and reminded the country of Fezekile’s suffering and persecution by those in the ANC who had rallied around Zuma during the rape trial. Zuma was acquitted of the charge, saying that sex with the HIV-positive Fezekile had been consensual.

Kuzwayo was only 10 when her father, Judson Khuzwayo, a man who spent 10 years on Robben Island and gave his life for the freedom of the country, died in a mysterious car accident. She had regarded Jacob Zuma, her father’s comrade, as a substitute father.

This is the year that those who hold the real history of the ANC, the stalwarts and veterans, called for an early consultative conference and who stated on Wednesday that “there is an urgent need for an honest acceptance by the majority of the elected leadership of our movement that the principles and values of the ANC have been undermined by corruption; nepotism; self-enrichment; the abuse of state resources for personal interests and the undermining of our hard-won constitutional democracy.”

The stalwarts added that “we know we have the overwhelming support of honest members of the ANC and the citizens of South Africa who do not wish to see the benefits of our constitutional democracy undermined by narrow self-interest, corruption and nepotism which can only benefit the few at the expense of the majority, especially the most disadvantaged within our communities”.

They have added that the engagement with the ANC “cannot only remain an internal party issue – given the gravity of the situation and the negative impact it has not only on South African perceptions but our place in the international community”.

As we enter 2017, South Africa is waving, not drowning. There are many capable hands – in the ruling party, in the opposition, in civil society, the media and among citizens at large – who will work together to help to pull us out of the deadly swamp. But first we must brace ourselves for a continuing struggle as those who have much to lose desperately fight to hold on to their ill-gotten gains. A Luta Continua. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan during a meeting with business and labour leaders at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. South Africa. 09/05/2016. Siyabulela Duda (GCIS)

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