South Africa


The Full Zondo has landed – now comes the really hard part

President Cyril Ramaphosa receives the fifth and final Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture from Justice Raymond Zondo at the Union Buildings on 22 June 2022 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

As our country’s political elites start to scour through the recommendations of the Zondo Commission’s final report, and try to work out how it will affect them, it is an important moment to ask if its recommendations will be accepted and implemented at all.

It is almost certain that in the short term there will be much contestation, legal and otherwise, around the findings. (It is important to remember here that the legal challenges to Zondo’s findings will not stop the incoming NPA investigations – they are separate processes – Ed) But in the longer term, the much more important question may be what is implemented and what is not. In short, the question becomes: Will this report really lead to a real change in our country, and in our politics?

Considering what appears to be a growing fracturing of our politics (some would call it breaking apart), it is likely that the really important parts of the report will not be implemented, that those in power, or who will ascend to power, will seek not to go to jail for what they’ve done to people and state of South Africa.

However, it is also possible that another course is followed, that public pressure, and the threat of upcoming elections force politicians to act even if that is against their own interests.

There can be no doubt of the importance of the Zondo Commission Report. It is likely to have more of an impact on our politics than any court judgments in our modern history.

In its essence, the report is really an investigation into the criminal mistakes made in our democracy in the past 30 years, an unparalleled feat of analysis. Its breadth ranges from the failure of Parliament to be a check on government, to the impact of cadre deployment, to how our SOEs are set up, to how mayors made money through their positions. It is also unprecedently deep, taking detailed public testimony on how payments were made and to whom and why, among so many other angles.

As a result, this mammoth document is likely to also be looked to as a blueprint for our future, a bible for a new South African state. And as it was the case when the Christian Bible was put together in the 5th century Alexandria, one of the most contentious issues will be which of Zondo’s recommendations will be followed and which will not.

There are important reasons to be cynical. It is a certainty almost everywhere that politicians are loath to accept changes to the system that got them into their positions. This is why large-scale change often has to be forced on them through elections, or revolutions.

There is also the disappointing history of the National Development Plan. It too was a blueprint for our future and it had wide public and political support. Despite being passed by acclamation at the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung Conference, most of it was ignored.

It is entirely possible the same fate could befall the Zondo Commission Report.

At the same time, our politics appears to be entering a phase in which there is no real dominant party – it could be harder for any one group of people to really implement change, but also to organise a nationwide conspiracy to make it forgotten.

Consider for a moment: should the ANC, as it is currently led, were to agree to end cadre deployment, to make it illegal, there would immediately be great movement within the party to oppose it, as it would likely reduce the party’s power over our society. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s own tenure as head of the party’s deployment committee would surely be used against him.

It is even possible that some people in other parties would also oppose this, because they would aspire to be in government one day (particularly in some provinces and councils) and thus wish to implement the policy themselves.

All of this would lead to a long line of people ready, willing and able to frustrate any changes, in any way they can.

This suggests that in fact it could become difficult to force through a series of changes to our political structure and our state even if they are recommended by the Zondo Report.

However, there has been a recent example of where a major change was introduced to our politics despite the fact it went against the interests of most of those in political power. It involved an ultimate insider spotting the right opportunity, and then ensuring that a change was enshrined in law. There was also a Chapter 9 institution able to enforce the law. After that all that was needed was NGOs to pick up the baton and keep up the pressure in public.

In 2017, a time with many similarities to our current period, our politics was dominated by the divisions in the ANC ahead of its Nasrec Conference. There was even talk of a breakaway from the party while opposition parties were growing in strength.

And yet one person realised that it was the perfect time to force through the Political Party Funding Act.

Certain elements were needed to do this.

Firstly, and crucially, the public had to be behind it. Secondly, the Treasurer of the ANC had to be no longer focused on funding the party in the future (as it happened the Treasurer at the time, Dr Zweli Mkhize, was trying to get elected leader himself). And thirdly, it had to be very hard to argue in public against the introduction of this measure.

As a result, the bill was eventually passed, and now parties have to regularly report on their finances to the Electoral Commission, apparently with varying levels of fidelity to the law.

The role of the IEC here is crucial, because it has the resources and the legal power to compel accountability from parties.

It is hard to overstate the end result of this, as it should improve our politics in significant ways for years to come. Despite some flaws (it doesn’t regulate the spending on internal party leadership races for example) it will force parties to tell voters where their money comes from, which should reduce the scope for outright corruption.

It is possible that this example provides some lessons for those who wish to ensure that the recommendations of the Zondo Commission are properly implemented.

The one big advantage these people may have is public opinion. There can be no doubt as to the sense of public anger at corruption, as to the frustration of what could be called “the state we’re in”.

The problem really is to harness it in a way that ensures some kind of long-lasting change that cannot be easily undone by politicians.

It may be the best way to do this is to ensure that certain proposals or ideas are pushed into law as quickly as possible – the momentum must not be lost or sidetracked.

It is important to have a designate body that can be called upon to oversee the changes in perpetuity. It is hard to see what this body could be, there appears to be no obvious equivalent to play the role the IEC plays with respect to party funding.

However, the way around this may be to ensure that the proposals are pushed into law quickly. This would then allow political parties and NGOs to put public pressure on those involved to comply with it. And they will be able to go to court to ensure judges enforce the law. In other words, what is important is speedy action to get changes on to the books while public sentiment demands it.

Happily for those who would push such an agenda, there is an election in 2024. It may be possible to make the defining question of that election whether a party will support proper reform or not. And not whether they want change, but whether they have supported change in Parliament and ensured laws are passed before that election. In other words, voters would judge parties on whether they implemented the recommendations or not.

There are several people who could be key to all of this.

Two months ago, many would have thought President Cyril Ramaphosa would be best placed to be this person. He had stated an agenda to reform our politics, he was then (and still is) likely to win the ANC’s leadership contest and thus start next year with a fresh mandate.

Much has changed since then. The Phala Phala scandal may have weakened him to the point where he can no longer play such a key role.

The role of opposition parties is also important. It is vital that they keep up the pressure, and are almost single-minded in their approach. In other words, it may be important for them not to be distracted from this one single issue, responding to the Zondo Commission Report. Even smaller parties could play an important role here by keeping the issue in the public domain.

It is likely that the next few days will be dominated by this report, that people promise to implement its recommendations. But while the key period is likely to be the next year, the medium term could be the vital section of this.

And it should never be forgotten that it will take a potent and determined combination of ordinary people, NGOs, activists, judges, Chapter 9 institutions and, yes, politicians, to ensure that this happens.

We must make sure that this opportunity to fix our country is not tragically wasted. Time for Thuli Madonsela’s second act. DM


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All Comments 5

  • You hit the nail on the head Stephen…i.e it is time for Thuli M. to head an oversight committee to monitor the NPA and ensure that prosecutions follow. I would love DM to interview someone like Pierre de Vos to establish if their is a legal mechanism in our Constitution. to stop this Stalingrad approach to our legal system. Otherwise any prosecutions will be to no avail.

  • The problem I have with the Zondo report to us ordinary folks is I think there should be a summary poster of sorts. Most people won’t read even articles summarising the Zondo Reports 5500+- pages.
    I feel like maybe political opposition parties or NGOs as you suggest can make bite size posters or issue topics that can be easily absorbed by the public at large. Nkandla, as a word became a bite size piece that could be repeated and represented a huge scandal, many examples like these exist that had similar results like; White monopoly capital, Radical economic transformation, Premier league, Fees must fall, pay back the money, Phala Phala…

    The Zondo report is huge and maybe its big issues should separated and have their terms that stick for us ordinary folk.

    Just an idea or more maybe a ramble.

  • With the incumbent PP,(or is she realy going to go?), you can be rest assured nothing will come of this report. Put Thuli in such a position and there could be mounting pressure. Bur CR needs to get all the badies out of decision making positions so that he can do the work that is required. But , as I think you said Stephen some years ago, fasten your seatbelt because this is going to be one tough ride!

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