Within our swirling, whirling politics there are a few vague signs that people in the urban middle class can start to have hope. They believe that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa actually stands a chance of winning the ANC’s leadership race in December. Considering the stench emanating from the #GuptaLeaks emails it’s no surprise that many people believe that the end of the reign of President Jacob Zuma would be the end of our troubles. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a lot more complicated than that. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
There is now surely no doubt as to the authenticity of the #GuptaLeaks and the extent of the high-level corruption that is continuously being revealed to the South African citizens. The sheer depressive awfulness of the biggest SOEs, and entire government departments being captured is still sinking in. It is absolutely human to feel violently ill at what is being revealed. It shows how a group of people don’t care for anyone, including the absolutely poorest around us. Instead, they are happy to steal money even while fully knowing that it ruins the chance of millions living productive, happy lives. It is difficult to work out the precise opportunity cost, but one day there will be a calculation that can can show us how many people saw their opportunity, and right, to live productive lives shattered because of the actions of Mosebenzi Zwane, for example. And that’s before we calculate the impact of the attempt to make a simple matter of corruption into a racial issue, for which the perpetrators should burn in Hell.
This means it is entirely human to believe that a result which sees a decisive end to the President Jacob Zuma era would be the beginning of the end of the kind of corruption that we are seeing in our society.
Unfortunately, there is strong indication that it actually goes much deeper and that the post-Zuma politics will also be messy.
Consider the path that Ramaphosa has to follow to actually get into power. While it is difficult to know what is happening in all ANC branches and regions, it is not unreasonable to believe that there is a well-established system of patronage in many places. People like Ace Magashule in the Free State and David Mabuza in Mpumalanga have run their provinces for decades. This has allowed them to use patronage, the use of government money and official office, to control the leaders and secretaries of branches. Which means that while sometimes we focus on how delegates to the December conference can be bought, we forget that in fact it is these people who decide which delegates go. And then give them their instructions long before they arrive there.
These branch people have long relationships with those who lead their provinces. In other words, the manipulation that could lead to an outcome for a certain candidate happens long before the conference starts. And the usual way to convince people to vote either way is to shower them with money.
Think, for a moment, of the situation facing Mabuza. He appears to be moving from the Zuma side to the Ramaphosa side (although, like everything in the ANC, this is based only on what we can see… and there is precious little we can see, and an awful lot that appears completely opaque right now). Ramaphosa needs his support to win. But he also needs to ensure that after he has won, Mabuza is not prosecuted for the series of allegations that have been made against him (of course, he has not been charged, but there are long-running claims that he paid a hitman to kill several people). This means that Ramaphosa would need to keep political control of the National Prosecuting Authority.
Instead of the new dawn for the NPA that some people may believe could occur, the institution might end up still being involved primarily in politically motivated prosecutions, or more accurately, non-prosecutions,.
Mabuza is unlikely to be the only person in the ANC who could end up on a winning side and who is still unnerved by a possibly independent NPA. There will be others, too.
We should also not forget the long and difficult track records of other people in the ANC who are backing Ramaphosa. The leader of the Gauteng ANC, Paul Mashatile, has been vocal in his condemnation of corruption; his province called for Zuma to go after the Nkandla scandal. He spoke at the launch of Save South Africa. But he is also a member of what was called the “Alex Mafia”, a group of people publicly accused of managing tenders in the province. The claims have dissipated but that doesn’t mean problems have disappeared.
Then there is the famous quote from Kgalema Motlanthe, back when he was Secretary-General of the ANC just before Polokwane:
“… this rot is across the board. It’s not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC’s problems are occasioned by this. They are people who want to take it over so they can arrange for the appointment of those who will allow them possibilities for future accumulation.”
There is no evidence to suggest that this could possibly have improved in the last 10 years of Zuma’s leadership of the ANC. Instead, it would have become a lot worse. This will present Ramaphosa with a decision of whether he either allows an important ANC person go to jail (and a whole herd of other “smallanyana skeletons” to emerge) and possibly further divide the ANC and lose an election, or simply stop the NPA from investigating that person. He’s a politician, which way do you think he would go?
All of that said, it is important to remember the situation we are in. At the moment the mining sector is being deliberately killed by a man who is not ashamed of lying. We have a president who laughs in the face of Parliament, who displays no shame when his actions are found to be illegal and corrupt. And we have email leak after email leak, detailing exactly how low we have gone.
If Ramaphosa does win, from a structural point of view, we will at least be able to expect that there will be a new group of people in power, making the decisions that matter. Even if we apply the lowest possible set of expectations, it takes time for people to actually set up their patronage networks, there will be a period before they are able to do that. It would be a moment in which the institutions we still have, and civil society in general, are able to push hard for the strongest possible punishment of those leaving office (including Zuma himself). This could then set a series of examples that those taking over would have to watch closely. In other words, we could give the new crowd a series of reasons to be very careful indeed.
To stop corruption, it is important to change the people at the top on a regular basis. If you don’t, you get Zimbabwe, (even West Germany’s Helmut Kohl faced corruption claims near the end of his 16-year rule). But if you do change these leaders, you break up corruption networks.
But it might appear at the moment that the only way to break up for good the patronage systems we have now is for voters to make a difficult and hard decision. Knowing that in about 10 or 20 years time, they would have to do it again. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma and President Joseph Kabila Kabange of the Democratic Republic of Congo co-chairing the 10th session of the South Africa-Democratic Republic of Congo Bi-National Commission (BNC) held in Pretoria, 25 June 2017. (Photo: GCIS)