ANC NEC’s bold action promise on Zondo and electricity — great words with an unclear relation to reality
As the ANC faces multiple crises affecting both the party and its extension, the national government, there are now the first official signs of the party trying to deal with the complex and dangerous situation South Africa is in.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has told party members “mentioned or implicated” in the Zondo report to “take the initiative and present themselves to the Integrity Commission”. It also appears to now be contradicting itself on the issue of cadre deployment, defending the practice against a legal action brought by the DA while also promising to review the policy itself in response to Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s findings.
At the same time, the NEC is leaning harder than ever towards quickening the pace of electricity sector reform. While much of what it declared on Tuesday has been said before by the party, the fact that the NEC is now publicly pushing for changes is surely significant. It could contain the first green shoots of meaningful change in dealing with our power crisis.
As has been lamented on these pages many times, up until this point the ANC has given the impression of being unable to respond to the findings in the State Capture Commission report. This is hardly surprising, as so many top officials in the party’s NEC and so many of its deployees are implicated in corruption that it appears impossible for the party to take a meaningful position.
This possibly explains the decision by the NEC to say:
“Individuals mentioned or implicated in the Report: All such ANC current and former leaders and ANC members, without prejudice, must immediately take the initiative and present themselves to the Integrity Commission.”
This appears to now place the onus on those implicated by the report to act themselves. This is probably the only way out of the problem for the party: it allows people to make their own decisions. And it removes messy debates about who exactly must go, which means that an NEC meeting to suggest a list of names will now no longer resemble a circular firing squad.
However, it also gives the appearance that the NEC is just kicking for touch, that once again the party is playing for time.
This cynicism is not without merit.
A powerful signal
Imagine, for a moment, the example of ANC chair and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. He has said he will challenge the findings of the Zondo Commission as they pertain to him. He may now feel that to appear before the Integrity Committee of his own free will would give the appearance that he accepts the findings, making it an unlikely occasion that we should not bother diarising. And as he happens to be the ANC’s national chairperson, such a non-move would send a powerful signal down the alley where the Zondo-accused are to be found.
Accordingly, if Mosebenzi Zwane, who has been implicated as a “Gupta Minister” in the report, has failed to step aside from his position as the chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport up until this point, he is hardly, of his own volition, going to do the right thing now. Or ever.
Neither are Malusi Gigaba and many others.
They may also feel, as a point of strategy, that taking the initiative themselves will merely make their situation worse.
These are but a few examples of what can go wrong with the NEC’s recommendation. It is almost certain that very few people, if any, will actually go before the Integrity Commission.
In the same statement, the NEC said that its task team, set up to deal with the report, would now make recommendations on “key principles” as part of a review of its policies with respect to:
- “Cadre deployment policy and practice;
- Party funding principles;
- Organisational discipline and accountability; and
- Parliamentary oversight.”
While this would appear to make sense and could be a way to control the final recommendations and the outcome, it is unlikely that this task team will restore public confidence.
One of the main reasons for this is that its chair is the former Cabinet minister Jeff Radebe.
He was a key member of the Cabinets put together by former president Jacob Zuma. In particular, he played important roles in weakening the judiciary and the National Prosecuting Authority, and was the person in charge of the government’s investigation into the Waterkloof Air Force Base landing.
As we know, the report of that investigation was a political attempt to ensure no one was punished for what happened.
Years later, Zondo stated that the Guptas’ landing at the Waterkloof Air Force Base was a key moment in the era of State Capture. It was from that point, said Zondo, that the ANC should have acted against Zuma.
Now, the person trusted by Zuma to ensure no accountability for that key incident is in charge of guiding the ANC’s response to the Zondo findings, which is officially all about the very same accountability he helped the party evade almost a decade ago. Reassuring that does not sound.
At the same time, it is becoming clear that the ANC has a series of contradictory approaches to cadre deployment, the policy that was vital for the party since 1994.
Zondo found the practice “illegal and unconstitutional”. At the same time, the DA has started a court application to ask a judge to make the same legal finding, in a bid to stop the practice altogether. The ANC has lodged court papers to oppose that application.
And yet, despite that approach in court, the NEC now promises a review of the practice.
This may simply be because cadre deployment has been so important to the party over the years. As Wits University School of Governance Professor Susan Booysen noted on SAfm on Wednesday, this helped the party to fund itself (ANC members deployed to the government often had to pay a levy to the party, and part of their government salary went to Luthuli House). Much more importantly, it also allowed party bosses to use the politics of patronage as a basic plank for ensuring they stay in power for the longest time.
For the ANC to now lose the ability to do this could have serious consequences for the party. At the very least, it would cost it money in multiple ways and significantly damage its ability to control the government so directly.
And yet, the mounting public anger at the ANC and this practice is undeniable. It has been shown to have failed to deliver services, significantly contributed to the disarray at every level of government, ruined the country’s infrastructure and made many wrong people criminally rich.
Despite many promises in the past, the ANC has found it almost entirely impossible to appoint qualified, non-corrupt people to important positions.
It is almost impossible to believe that the ANC will give up this power now — cadre deployment may turn out to be one of the crucial issues at the policy conference later this year, with difficult-to-predict results.
Electricity sector reform
Meanwhile, the NEC also appears to now be giving almost the strongest possible support to speedy reforms of the electricity sector, not the least because of the deep and intense load shedding crisis of this winter.
The NEC says it wants Eskom to “facilitate private investment in new generation capacity … speed up the repurposing of power stations with alternate energy sources … accelerate the procurement of battery storage … empower municipalities to procure additional electricity and encourage business and households to invest in renewable energies. Government must speed up reforms in the energy sector.”
While the party has supported renewable energy in the recent past, this may be the strongest possible push towards the reform of our electricity sector.
The fact that the NEC is now fully behind supporting councils in getting their own electricity supplies from sources other than Eskom will surely remove any political arguments preventing cities like Cape Town and Joburg from signing important deals with independent power producers.
This will encourage every metro to follow their lead, as they can’t afford not having enough power while other cities do have sufficient electricity.
The fact that the NEC also states, firmly, that the government must “speed up reforms” in this area may also be important.
While Mantashe has firmly denied claims from environmental groups that he is responsible for delays in this area, it is likely to put more pressure on his ministry to act.
The CEO of the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association, Dr Rethabile Melamu, told Newzroom Afrika on Tuesday that if there were no restrictions, “wind and solar can be deployed very quickly; in two to three years we can avert [load shedding] completely…”
Of course, no government anywhere should allow an industry to build so much so quickly without regulations. That could lead to very difficult outcomes; for example, we could end up with too much power during the day, and not enough at night, or power being generated in the wrong place, where it cannot be added to the national grid.
But the impact of the NEC’s statement should encourage business organisations and renewable energy groups to lobby the government harder for immediate change.
However, our power crisis has demonstrated both how the ANC has created and perpetuated the problem for so many years that it may be hard to believe that it can now implement the right decisions quickly.
The NEC’s public statement is the most significant public response by the party to its two main problems of the moment: the national power cuts and the Zondo Commission.
But the problems remain and neither of them is easy to fix. The ANC will have to work hard to provide evidence of its political will to really confront them. And, unlike in the past, we now have a public document to hold the party responsible and measure its delivery against its main points. DM
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