ANC’s Integrity Commission? What Integrity Commission?
As the ANC’s internal electoral machinery readies for the release of its branches’ final nomination lists, the party’s Integrity Commission is once again under the spotlight — because of the high levels of contestation in the party, the high level of perceived corruption and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala scandal.
The Integrity Commission clearly believes it is fulfilling its role and has angrily denied that it is “toothless”. There is no evidence to support its claim, and it may be that one of the biggest problems in the ANC, and perhaps in our politics, is the fact that this commission and the ANC’s entire anti-corruption machinery do not work
Perhaps it was never designed to work.
It is worth repeating that one of the biggest problems facing our politics is corruption, and that the machinery used by the governing party to deal with it is of crucial importance to our democracy.
On Friday, while the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) was meeting, the party’s Integrity Commission released a statement in which it said:
“The Commission reiterates its rejection of the irresponsible referencing by some in the media including opinion makers and analysts to the Integrity Commission as ‘toothless’. The Commission remains steadfast and committed to carry [sic] out its mandate without fear or favour.”
It is clear that its members are angry at claims by several people (including this writer), that their body is not making an impact. An examination of the evidence does not support the commission’s claims.
This matters, because an Integrity Commission, presumably, should base its decisions on evidence. Its very reason to exist involves the sifting and evaluation of evidence. If it is prepared to make a public statement without evidence, that is bound to have certain consequences for how it is perceived.
It is difficult to think of any incident in the last 10 years in which the Integrity Commission has in fact had any political impact at all — in some cases, it has been completely ignored with no consequences for those involved.
The case of Zuma
Perhaps the most important case is that of former president Jacob Zuma.
In 2017, it emerged that a few months before, in 2016, the commission, chaired as it then was by Andrew Mlangeni, had told him to resign. He refused.
The commission and Mlangeni did not go public with these events, and it was only after Zuma’s removal of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister that they emerged.
(When Daily Maverick broke this story, the ANC’s then spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, accused us of publishing fake news. We are still waiting for his apology. — Ed)
Something similar appears to have happened with Deputy President David Mabuza. In 2019 he refused to take office, delaying Ramaphosa’s appointment of his entire Cabinet. This was because he wanted to be cleared by the commission before taking his oath of office. Then, he took office, giving the impression that the commission had cleared him.
It was only two years later that the commission told the ANC it had in fact not cleared him.
More recently, the chair of the commission, George Mashamba, was not able to explain why people against whom findings had been made by the Zondo Commission had not reported to him to explain themselves.
Crucially, in that same interview, Mashamba appeared to downplay the importance of his own commission. And when it came to actual decisions, he explained that the Integrity Commission reports to the NEC, where: “we make our input, they decide what to do”.
All of this suggests that his commission does in fact have little to no real power.
But this may have been the original intention.
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Many ANC leaders have claimed that there was no need to set up this kind of integrity machinery in the first place and that people could “rely on the conscience” of those implicated in wrongdoing to step down.
Events have shown that this thinking was not based on reality. It was always the case that someone who ignored their conscience to break the law to their own benefit was unlikely to suddenly listen to their conscience on the issue of stepping aside.
And during this time, it appears that just one person who was implicated in wrongdoing actually did so, in the form of Enoch Godongwana (he resigned as a deputy minister after a company he chaired collapsed in 2012 — no finding was ever made against him). One other person, former ANC Northern Cape Chair John Block, resigned after being convicted of corruption by a court.
Just this alone, the almost complete absence of resignations, suggested then and suggests now that no one in the ANC is scared of the party’s own anti-corruption machinery.
While it is tempting to blame those in the Integrity Commission for this, it may be worth examining the situation in which they find themselves.
First, everything they do is subject to the NEC. Even if they feel strongly about an issue, as the commission clearly did about Zuma in 2016, it is unlikely the NEC would have backed them up. Certainly, when the issue of removing Zuma was discussed, the NEC simply refused to vote to remove him.
Second, despite what the ANC and its leaders and spokespersons may say in public, there is clearly no true appetite to act against corruption. If there was, it would not have taken the formal lodging of charges against Mosebenzi Zwane for him to finally step aside. Malusi Gigaba and perhaps even Zweli Mkhize would have resigned from their positions on the NEC because of the findings against them. None of this has happened.
And then there is the issue of the people who are actually on the Integrity Commission itself.
When the idea was first adopted at the ANC’s Mangaung Conference, it was agreed that “elders” who were seen as politically neutral would be appointed. The idea was to find people who had no interest in the day-to-day political contestation in the ANC.
It may be impossible to objectively assess this, and your view may well depend on the stage of life in which you find yourself, but some may want to ask if selecting “elders” was the right choice. It may well depend on the individual committee members. But it could well be that someone like Ramaphosa (or Zuma) felt unthreatened by the members of the commission, even if they were dealing with matters of great political weight.
It is very likely that going into the next election and beyond, the issue of corruption will continue to bedevil the ANC and SA politics. It is also obvious that to win the trust of voters the party needs to be seen to be acting against corruption.
Voters themselves will look for evidence the party is willing to act against those implicated in corruption. But for the commission to make the claim — without evidence, it appears — that it is not “toothless” could draw attention to the fact that the opposite may well be true.
And that the commission, for various reasons, has virtually no power and virtually no impact. DM