South Africa

ANALYSIS

ANC’s reaction to Eskom revelations exposes a party in denial of reality and in a deep ethical crisis

ANC’s reaction to Eskom revelations exposes a party in denial of reality and in a deep ethical crisis
President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. (Illustrative image | sources: Business Day / Freddy Mavunda | Bloomberg via Getty Images / Waldo Swiegers)

The party is under intense strain and could easily fall in the elections next year to an unprecedented minority level. This is what makes its response to the claims of corruption at Eskom so startling — there appears to be no understanding of how vulnerable the party is and just how much the lives of ordinary South Africans have worsened of late.

While it has not yet been revealed which politically connected individuals are benefiting from corruption at Eskom, it is obvious that much more information will burst into the public domain soon. This is likely to eventually include the names of the senior individuals reportedly involved.

The ANC’s response, so far, may have echoes of the beginning of the State Capture era, when the circling of the wagons was the name of its game. Instead of cracking down on corruption, the party is attacking those who are fighting to save Eskom and the SA economy. 

This comes at a critical time for the party, as it is due to face voters just next year when load shedding is still likely to be an overwhelming central issue.

The reaction of the ANC to former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s claims in his eTV interview has been to put pressure on De Ruyter. It said that if he doesn’t name the names and go to the police, it will go to court to force him to do so.

The ANC has also said that it will not tolerate corruption and that it won’t protect people who are corrupt.

It has been joined in this by Cosatu and the SACP, who have said that De Ruyter has a duty to go to the police.

Then, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told Newzroom Afrika on Monday that he had discussed corruption at Eskom with De Ruyter, and that De Ruyter had “alluded” to certain people being involved.

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As Gordhan put it, “If he has the evidence, he must go to the law enforcement agencies… don’t expect me on the basis of some understanding or possible suspicion to now say who it is… I don’t want to be charged with defamation, I don’t have the evidence.”

For those with long memories, there may be some echoes of the ANC during the early stages of State Capture here.

Then, almost no matter what evidence could be brought regarding then president Jacob Zuma, it was deemed as an attack on the ANC and not about corruption.

Even when the Guptas landed a plane at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, the party used its deployees in the government to ensure that no action was taken. Instead, and scandalously, the main official involved, Bruce Koloane, was “punished” with an ambassadorship to the Netherlands.

Also, at the time, the ANC’s leadership had ensured that the National Prosecuting Authority was hollowed out. It was Zuma who appointed Menzi Simelane as National Director of Public Prosecutions after it was found that there was “prima facie” evidence that he had lied under oath.

It should be remembered that this was during a time, in 2012, when people such as then SACP leader Blade Nzimande were calling for a law specifically to protect Zuma from being insulted.

Several years later, at the height of State Capture, then Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko appointed Berning Ntlemeza as head of the Hawks after a judge had found Ntlemeza was a “man without integrity”.

Protecting the comrades from prosecution

All this illustrates the control the ANC has had in the past over our law enforcement officials and its eagerness to use this to protect the comrades who might have been in danger of criminal prosecution.

In the process, that very same law enforcement was so systematically weakened that today it is unable to stem the rising tide of lawlessness in South Africa.

It has been well demonstrated that the Hawks and the police are simply unable to investigate crimes of corruption. Fewer than 20% of murders in SA are solved and most crimes are left unpunished. Just two years ago, the head of the Hawks, Godfrey Lebeya, said the crime-fighting unit was operating at below 50% of its capacity.

It is beyond any doubt that the major reason our law enforcement agencies are in this state of disrepair is because of the people running the ANC government over the last 15 or so years. It was they who not only allowed but also enabled and encouraged this to happen.

For those with even longer memories, there are echoes of the ANC’s behaviour during the Arms Deal in the 1990s.

Then, as more information started to emerge, one member of the ANC who opposed the deal, Andrew Feinstein, was isolated, attacked and eventually hounded out of the country. Anyone else who opposed the deal was harshly dealt with.

It appears the ANC may have learnt very little from that time.

‘Join the dots’

Now, Gordhan is demanding that De Ruyter go to the police with evidence, saying that he cannot do so on the basis of “suspicion”.

But this is the very same Gordhan who told the nation, time and time again, to “join the dots” in 2017, when he was under pressure during the State Capture era.

During that time, Gordhan played a huge role in exposing Zuma and the Guptas and their central involvement in State Capture.

He was right in those days and has been proven so ever since. So how is this man, who in 2017 urged the people of South Africa to “join the dots”, now asking someone else to take evidence to the police, that he himself knows are corrupt and incompetent?

Even more, he surely has a duty to better understand what is happening, before repeating the ANC’s well-rehearsed lines.

There are other things he could say. He could say that he is trying to find out more, that he believes these are serious claims and there must be action, and that he is calling on the police to properly investigate.

But he has not said these things. He just walked away from what is South Africa’s grimmest problem in decades.

At the same time, the ANC’s own stance, basically attacking De Ruyter, may end badly.

It is interesting to contrast the comments of ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula with the view of the union federation Saftu, which also wants De Ruyter to name names. Saftu is clear that it does not want to “pit ourselves against” him, they just want the information.

This is not the stance of the ANC. As a result, the party may now lack political room to manoeuvre. If it turns out that it is two senior leaders involved, then it will find it difficult to walk back these comments.

While this is the ANC’s response for the moment, it is important to note just how different this moment is from previous tough spots.

2024 election

Then, even with all the corruption scandals, there was no doubt that the ANC would win the next election.

No more. 

Now, the party is under intense strain and could easily fall next year to an unprecedented minority level.

This is what makes its response to the corruption claims so startling — there appears to be no understanding of how vulnerable the party is and just how much the lives of ordinary South Africans have worsened of late.

Additionally, the ANC can no longer even claim to be led by someone of unquestionable integrity. The Phala Phala scandal has opened up President Cyril Ramaphosa to intense scrutiny. Once again, the party will be led into an election by someone with serious claims against them.

It is likely that corruption will be a defining issue in the 2024 elections. To do well in these polls, the party may have to reconsider its stance and convince voters that it is serious about fighting corruption.

But, given the long history of the party on this issue, this will be difficult to do. And certainly, judging by its reaction to the latest Eskom mess, it is not prepared to change. DM

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