ANALYSIS

Cosatu has had it with corruption – but what comes next?

By Stephen Grootes 4 August 2020
Caption
President Cyril Ramaphosa may well be more frustrated with the lack of action from the National Prosecuting Authority than anybody, but in the court of public opinion that doesn’t matter. He is the man who made the promises. And he is the man who has failed to fulfil them, says the writer. (Photo: GCIS / Siyabulela Duda)

Anger at corruption in the governing ANC is mounting. Now, Cosatu has raised the stakes by stating it believes President Cyril Ramaphosa himself is to blame for the still alleged Covid-19 corruption. While this may be a manoeuvre to give him more space to act, it could also be another of the tripartite alliance’s death throes.

National conversations still appear to be dominated by the revelations last week that people linked to the ANC were benefiting from Covid-19 tenders issued by health departments around the country. Daily Maverick reported on Friday how the sons of ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule won PPE tenders in the Free State, after it emerged earlier that Thandisizwe Diko, the husband of presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko, had won a tender from the Gauteng Health Department.

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On Sunday night the Dikos’ attorneys wrote to the Sunday Independent newspaper saying that claims that Thandisizwe Diko’s firm had been paid by the Gauteng Health Department were false and baseless, and threatening legal action.

Over the weekend the ANC’s National Executive Committee met, while there has been no public appearance by Ramaphosa himself.

On Monday morning, Cosatu’s spokesperson Sizwe Pamla was angry. He told SAfm, “We have to make it clear that we are very disappointed in how we feel, not just that he is failing, he is really doing nothing. All we hear [about corruption] is banalities… yet corruption still happens around us, in his administration.”

Pamla connected corruption to the failure of the government to pay public sector workers their agreed increase in April:

“Our workers were not given their money in April because they were told this country doesn’t have resources. Now these workers are seeing these stories that there is a feast taking place… We are very, very clear to the president. We have always wanted to be constructive partners in trying to help him fix problems, but if he fails to take seriously the problem of corruption, there will be a parting of ways… we will have to start mobilising against his administration.”

He said that it was wrong for Ramaphosa to be in power, to have a mandate to lead, and not act. He suggested Ramaphosa is not certain of a second term, and “must earn it”.

Until this point, Cosatu has been generally supportive of Ramaphosa. The federation was dismayed at the corruption of the Zuma era, and publicly supported the CR17 campaign before Nasrec. This has been made difficult by the actions of the Ramaphosa government in saying it would not pay the 6.25% public sector worker salary increase agreed to two years ago.

Cosatu, of course, has every right to be angry. Last week Nehawu explained how some of its members, who are nurses, were risking their lives at work because of a shortage of PPE. Some nurses had even used plastic rubbish bags to protect themselves. 

Now, its members are surely justified in feeling they are suffering, literally putting their lives in danger, because of this corruption, because some people “want to eat”.

For Cosatu’s constituency, this is a huge issue, and those feelings of betrayal will be driving their sentiment. They will also be resonating with much of society, who believe that Ramaphosa’s promise of a “new dawn” has come to resemble a never-ending nightmare.

Consider the evidence. 

Despite the promises, no one has yet been charged with crimes relating to State Capture (though on Monday the Special Investigating Unit, SIU, announced action against the main participants in the looting of Eskom, including the Gupta brothers – Ed). Despite the massive evidence brought to the public domain at the Zondo Commission, thanks to the players in State Capture who became witnesses, like Bosasa’s Angelo Agrizzi, no one has been arrested.

No surprise that this chronic lack of action has fuelled public anger.

Worse, people actually charged with corruption still occupy important positions in the government and in the ANC. Bongani Bongo faces corruption charges in court, and yet is chair of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee; Mosebenzi Zwane used his power as mineral resources minister to force the sale of a mine, and he is still chair of the Transport Committee (Zwane is on the SIU’s Eskom looters list – Ed). Faith Muthambi, who is accused of sharing Cabinet secrets with the Guptas when she was communications minister has, unbelievably, chaired a parliamentary discussion about corruption in the Eastern Cape

This list goes on and on.

There is a much bigger question about whether Ramaphosa himself is to blame for this. Certainly, he has made big promises, but there has been no action. He may well be more frustrated with the lack of action from the National Prosecuting Authority than anybody, but in the court of public opinion that doesn’t matter. He is the man who made the promises. And he is the man who has failed to fulfil them.

His defenders may point to the split decision by ANC delegates at Nasrec, and suggest that with Ace Magashule as secretary-general, Ramaphosa has limited room to move. Of course, his detractors would say, he could still speak out against Magashule and his faction in more direct ways.

His supporters might believe that Cosatu is deliberately creating a space in which he has no choice but to act.

There is, interestingly, history here. In 2012, towards the end of Jacob Zuma’s first term as ANC leader, Cosatu started to lose patience with him. It called for a “Lula moment”, that would see a leader changing gear in their second term in the way the now-former Brazilian president Lula did. Once, during that time, Zuma walked into an icy cold, silent Cosatu conference hall. It was effective in showing how angry Cosatu members were.

However, despite that pressure from Cosatu, Zuma did not change his ways. In fact, the evidence shows he did the opposite.

That memory may well haunt Cosatu these days, in that it shows the limits of its political power. And since that moment, Cosatu has become a substantially weaker player in the alliance and South African politics.

Unions are at a power crossroads and – like with Eskom – it is precarious

This suggests that the union federation’s calls for change might fall on deaf ears, that there will be no change of course from Ramaphosa. Cosatu then is faced with its usual options: to break away from the alliance or to remain. That debate has been had many times, with the result that those who make the decisions cannot resist the allure of proximity to state power.

That said, this call, from one of Ramaphosa’s strongest backers, is bound to put some pressure on him. Once again it illustrated just how angry the people of South Africa are with the rampant corruption and the apparent absence of any consequences, as long as you are, or are related to, an ANC member of any importance. DM

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