South Africa


Fighting corruption? Really? President Ramaphosa could start today — but he won’t

Fighting corruption? Really? President Ramaphosa could start today — but he won’t
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the keynote address at the opening session of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council’s National Dialogue on building a corruption-free South Africa at the Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre in Boksburg, Gauteng, on 8 November 2023. (Photo: GCIS)

While our political leaders make a continuous stream of promises to end corruption, the evidence of such action is virtually non-existent. It is as if the ANC of today is defined by its internal fight against its promise of ‘renewal’. Even President Cyril Ramaphosa has admitted that corruption is fundamentally damaging our democracy. He has the constitutional duty and power to act and yet he seems woefully unprepared to do so.

Last week, while speaking at the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council’s national dialogue on building a corruption-free South Africa (many “corruptions” in there — Ed), Ramaphosa made an important comment that reveals how damaging corruption has been to our society.

“Corruption,” the President said, “has wounded our democracy and shaken people’s faith in our institutions. If corruption is not arrested, the greatest damage will not be in the funds stolen, the jobs lost or the services not delivered.”

Then he made his major point: 

“The greatest damage will be to the belief in democracy itself.” 

How right this statement is.

Many people contributing to our national conversation have suggested that democracy is failing; English-language talk radio is replete with calls from people who believe that a dictatorship may be better, that “democracy has gone too far”, and from black people the horrific (and incorrect) claim, that “apartheid was better than now”. 

From time to time, political leaders have come close to making the same point.

The most famous of these examples was then president Jacob Zuma’s claim in 2016 that if he were a dictator for six months, “everything would be in order” afterwards.

There can be no doubt that, as has been demonstrated many times, most South Africans are worse off in every measurable way than they were just five years ago.

For many, the worst aspect of this is the huge increase in violent crime, which has forced them to live in fear.

A society-wide response

During his address at the national dialogue, Ramaphosa also said that corruption is so bad, “It therefore requires a society-wide response that marshals all our resources and capabilities in a concerted effort to end corruption in all its forms.”

Again, this must be correct. Ending corruption involves police officers not asking for bribes and motorists not giving them, along with protection for whistle-blowers and many other measures.

But a “whole-of-society approach” to ending corruption must include the power of living by example.

One of the worst aspects of the Zuma years was that many other people indulged in corruption partly because of the example he set. If he and others in his government could get away with it, why not them too?

Without Zuma, Hlaudi Motsoeneng would not have been able to behave in such a thuggish manner that fundamentally damaged the SABC and many of the journalists working there.

There was an almost direct link between Zuma’s behaviour and that he got away with it publicly, and the fact that so many people were involved in corruption — at driver’s licence centres, the Department of Home Affairs, the SA Police Service, and pretty much everywhere there was a chance to make a quick buck.

By setting an example, Ramaphosa has a chance to initiate the reversal of this plague.

He is able to address the entire nation, has the highest level of public political power and is the most famous person in South Africa.

This places upon him a unique obligation to live as he wants society to live. He cannot hide behind legalese, practising passive-aggression (he must wait for “findings” or for someone to be formally charged). 

A ridiculous extreme

In the ANC-directed language, his refusal to tell the truth extends to the point of ridiculous extreme, where as long as someone has not exhausted the last instance of appeal, that person cannot be seen as a criminal. (This extends to obvious criminals who are often freed on technicalities — and even end up serving in our Parliament.)

This, coupled with the chaos in our prosecuting authorities and the use of Stalingrad tactics — which are, in turn, fuelled and paid for by money from corruption — renders many a powerful person an untouchable person.

Ramaphosa can step in here. He can say that in his view, this person is a crook, or cannot be trusted. This is how most of us live; if you see someone on video stealing something, you don’t need a judge to tell you they are a thief, you can decide immediately to have nothing to do with them. 

If someone repeatedly lies to you or others, or assaults people, or steals money, or damages a company, they develop a reputation for doing this.

No one needs a final finding, with all appeals exhausted, against someone for them to decide not to work with, associate or employ that person because they have a bad reputation and can’t be trusted.

There are extensive press reports and investigations about corruption and criminality within the government and the ANC, and Ramaphosa does not have to wait for years to react. The most obvious case in which he is failing to set the example he claims people must follow is in the appointments he has made. 

Ramaphosa has said many, many times, that he is opposed to corruption.

But he has not explained why he has retained in his government someone against whom there is overwhelming evidence of corruption, such as Deputy Water Affairs Minister David Mahlobo.

The Zondo Commission was clear about Mahlobo

“The Commission finds therefore that Mr Mahlobo did indeed involve himself in operational matters at the State Security Agency (SSA), and further that large amounts of cash were delivered to him on several occasions.”

He was receiving bags of cash from the State Security Agency and handing them to Zuma.

By employing Mahlobo in this way, Ramaphosa sends the signal, every day that Mahlobo is in office, that he trusts a person whom the Chief Justice believes may have been stealing cash or giving it to someone to steal. (And that’s before organising the SSA to serve as Zuma’s personal apparatus. Ed)

There is no way of knowing if Mahlobo is still doing such a thing in a ministry which deals in huge amounts of money. (Earlier this year, with a critical water shortage in Nelson Mandela Bay, he famously declared in Parliament that there was no major water crisis in South Africa. Ed)

If any CEO in any corporation were to employ such a person, there would be a huge outcry and it would be the major discussion point in every broadcast news outlet. The board would be expected to remove the CEO.

Instead, Ramaphosa is happy to say, standing up in public, in Parliament that he will not act against members of his executive despite the Zondo findings, and that only, “Once charges are preferred against anyone, we are then able to follow through.” 

This is nonsense.

There is nothing stopping him from removing Mahlobo (and others), right now. There is no legal reason (a President can appoint whoever they want from the National Assembly to their Cabinet) and no moral reason.

What can one understand from this?

It can only be that when Ramaphosa claims he needs all of society to fight corruption, he does not see himself as part of “society”. And that fighting corruption is something for other people to do, while he can happily appoint a person to whom “large amounts of cash were delivered” for which no explanation has been given. 

When Ramaphosa says “the greatest damage will be to the belief in democracy itself”, it is time for him and his party to look in the mirror. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Regarding your last observation, the president …. and most of his colleagues (from all political groupings incidentally !) only ‘look in the mirror’ to see if they are in ‘fashionable/trendy attire’ ! If ethics or character were visible in those mirrors … even the mirrors would cry out in protest ! Being politicians (and CR having a legal background) they have mastered the art of speaking out of both sides of their mouths … BS in simple language and treating all of us as imbeciles ! While you refer to the example of Mahlobo … what about the current police minister who was found to have engaged in a nefarious ‘building lease’ enterprise ? The list could go on and on !

  • John Buchan says:

    Spot on. Stephen Grootes always makes perfect sense.

  • Grietjie Outraged says:

    Maybe we are approaching corruption from the wrong platform. Corruption is all about money.
    We use the law to bring to light what is fraudulent actions enriching a few. The problem is that money are being spend to stop money leaving – all the while the parties continue in their respective financial status quo.
    What if :
    1. Anyone that is named, accused, pointed out to be party to corrupt actions – has a cap placed on their monthly income from government (let’s be generous 15000) and balance of the funds (from their government approved salary scale) set aside for them to use as funding for their defence – this to be implemented at the point when a docket is opened. And as long as the docket is open no other benefits can be claimed by the accused.
    2. No political appointees may use state funds for funding of personal legal costs.
    3. Should a member of parliament be named as a co accused due to their position in parlement – the cap on monthly income will apply but the legal costs will now be shared by the individual and the political party they represent.
    And this apply to both the accusers and the accused.
    If the accuser is not a political appointee then government funds was not used to open the docket to start the process.

  • Donavin Hawker says:

    They begging for an election hiding – until then, thee is no motivation to stop corruption because no matter how bad it gets, they still win elections

  • Louise Louise says:

    “Judge a man not by his words, but by his actions”.

    Where is the list of people who have been jailed for corruption/fraud? The system protects corruption. And the fish rots from the head……………

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Quite frankly, Ramaphosa and his cronies in crime couldn’t start a 100m race in a primary school, never mind tackle the complete breakdown of a failed nation. Mr Grootes is completely correct in all his observations, and indeed normal black South Africans privately agree that even for them, day to day living in SA was better in the past. While most of us citizens are law-abiding and honest, when we are surrounded by criminal acts daily, quite simply, we rebel. When scoundrels in the traffic police hide behind corners to catch people on cellphones, and flag me down, all I do is drive straight on. I refuse to pay a bribe, and I refuse to pay a penalty for a minor offence while they steal. Just drive on. Let them chase me if they will, but they never do. Too fat, too lazy, and just another victim coming around the corner in a few seconds. Since corporations and banks in particular collaborate with this evil instead of refusing to act as police, sure, it does make life more difficult, but civil disobedience is the next best thing. It is up to us to follow the principles first espoused by the ANC: make this country ungovernable while they are on power.

    • Derek Jones says:

      Agree Iam.

    • Ingo Strautmann says:

      I totally agree, and so do many others. Civil disobedience seems to be the last and only response left to us,but it can only succeed when there are enough of us standing together in solidarity, yet in the mean time we all continue to pay our dues

      and keep those in power cozy in their I’ll begotten jobs and castles. It time to withdraw that which really matters, …our money!

    • Dee Bee says:

      You could also not use your cellphone whilst driving, no? I think all cars these days have Bluetooth, or if not, you can simply fit a hands-free device. People on cellphones in traffic drive as badly as drunk drivers.

    • Bick Nee says:

      This is already happening and it’s rather disingenuous to call it civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a form of peaceful protest by refusal to comply with unjust laws. You and those of your ilk who think it’s okay to break the law, from speed limits to crossing red traffic lights, to using your cellphone whilst driving, because “the government is full of crooks” are nothing more than common criminals. You are contributing to the lawlessness of this land and using a lawless government as a convenient excuse. Rather than joining the lowest common denominator and becoming part of the problem, be better than them, do the right thing, and be part of the solution.

  • William Kelly says:

    The most famous person in South Africa is Siya Kolisi.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Reporting on the words and (in)actions of our pretend president is an exercise in futility. Could he be any less credible if he tried really hard?

  • Kenneth Southey says:

    No guts!

  • Con Tester says:

    Ramaposeur has already squandered a wide array of opportunities to give effect to his anti-corruption and renewal rhetoric. His bloviating, avuncular “our peeepell” bombast has less believability than a R33.00 note, and succeeds only in further cementing his nature as a spineless, gutless, sackless, feckless, useless, grinning jellyfish of a first citizen—and all the more so as leader of both the country and of the ANC. His cabinet, stuffed to the gills with crooks and bunglers, is a testament to his utter feebleness as a leader. Madiba is likely turning in his grave for having endorsed such a weakling.

  • ROB Bernard says:

    Democracy does work when implemented properly by persons of good standing. Democracy in SA is democracy in name only for reasons of acceptance in the western world and access to lucrative trading markets. Cutting through the mountains of BS, any government formed by a liberation movement (the polite term) has failed in africa. These groups of individuals “placed” (read cadre deployment) into positions of responsibility in local and national government are 1:- rewarded for loyalty to the organisation in these lucrative positions, and 2:- poorly or more usually entirely unskilled and unsuited for that position. Further, the taking of government is seen as a victory by the liberation movement (polite term) and the country, it’s coffers, it’s assets and anything of value is seen as the spoils of victory of the “liberation war” and are theirs for the taken and plunder. The facade (initially) to the world says democracy but a few short years on, the scope of the plunder results in the depths of dis-functionality seen in our once beautiful South Africa. Politics is a dirty business and has resulted in many african countries having followed the path SA is currently following.

  • Tony Eva says:

    Unfortunately our President does not have the desire, will or enthusiasm to oppose corruption other than muttering platitudes to the masses. Who and what is he scared of ? He has the ability to make a difference but will not act at all. Methinks corruption has bitten too deeply.

    • ROB Bernard says:

      “Who and what is he scared of?”, he was in the room when zuma and his cabal expedited massive corruption and state capture and yet he plead ignorance when questioned about it. Corruption must be (I cannot say definitely “is” but if it walks like a duck…) unimaginably deep and widespread and being perpetrated by all pledging allegiance to the green/black/yellow, and they all likely know about each others involvement, that no-one dare spill the beans. Over the years a number of politicians when feeling hard done by have alluded to the major corruption, but then shortly thereafter they go schtum. (zuma did it, as I recall so did yengeni, selebi and others) Clearly they were quietly “spoken to” and the facts of life in the anc re-explained to them. There in no follow-up on Andre de Ruyter’s information re:eskom corruption. Instead they subvert justice from the highest levels by cutting budgets so that insufficient human resources may investigate these rather credible claims. Oh, they also deploy people loyal to the cabal so that the right outcome results when hard currency is stolen from a couch and someone alerts the media.

  • Rob Glenister says:

    99.99% of what you hear from the ANC for the foreseeable future will be BS. They have an election to win, after all.

  • Lawrence Jacobson says:

    We are doing ourselves a disservice as a society by primarily focusing on the output of corruption and crime and not putting enough focus on the inputs. By this I mean that we need to get a better understanding of what makes it ok for people to engage in corruption and crime. There is a societal dysfunction, or probably many dysfunctions, that feeds all of this. How do we address that? Otherwise, we are just focusing on the symptom and ignoring the root causes.

    I don’t have the answers but am certain that policing, our courts, punishment and rehabilitation systems are only a part of the solution. None of these elements can function amidst dysfunction and until the dysfunction starts being addressed, our problems will continue to increase.

  • Yip 100% Stephen, this has been ongoing for the last 20 years, and nothing has really happened. People have been to court, but to this day, not one major arrest has happened after the Zondo report.

    Its like promoting someone who keeps on messing up at work; they think there is nothing wrong with them. Which says a lot about the ANC, they are simply looking after each other and watching their own backs.

  • Colin Braude says:

    ”The A.N.C. is pained immensely by stories of corruption,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, the party’s secretary general, who led the efforts to write a new constitution. ”We are highly conscious of the damage that corruption does to a party and a country.”

    ↑ This is from a New York Times article covering the Sarafina II theft, 8 October 1996, just over 23 years ago and after only two years into the ANC reign.

    After a quarter-of-a-century of Corruptheid, all that has changed is that:
    • Dr Nkosazana Zuma, the chief perpetrator of the scam, has double-barrelled her surname and her role in the cabinet has changed.
    • Cyril Ramaphosa had progressed from Secretary-General to President and has made more unkept promises, told more lies and wept more crocodile tears.
    • Unemployment, corruption and crime are up while the rand and economy are down.

  • Walter Spatula says:

    Ramaphosa is a sheep in sheep’s clothing.

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    The criminal ANC should look inward for corruption. Start at the top and work down. Very few will be found clean.
    The public have heard this same old same from the ANC for 30 years. Does anyone actually think that anything will change. ANC corruption is flecked open on a daily basis and I see no top comrades in jail. This is Africa. Corruption and mismanagement are endemic.

  • Dee Bee says:

    “What can one understand from this?”

    Stephen, you’ve got this completely and utterly wrong and have let Ramaphosa off the hook by stating that he somehow doesn’t see himself as part of society. Bollocks! Ramaphosa is simply playing to gallery of public opinion by blathering on about the fight against corruption, when he’s actually presiding over the largest Ponzi scheme in South African history. The ANC’s survival as the ruling (as opposed to governing) party depends 100% on patronage and corruption, from the Presidency to the smallest local authority and everything in-between. The ANC has absolutely no desire to eliminate corruption, or he would have won the elective conference by a landslide in 2017 – he squeaked in against the Zupta candidate. Likewise, at Nasrec last year, the ANC elected some of the most odious people into its top structures, including a woman beater (Mduduzi Manana – 2nd most votes) and a one convicted of assault (Andile Lungisa – 11th), Mahlobo got the 23rd most votes, just ahead of Bathabile Dlamini. Other names of ANC luminaries in the top 30 include the likes of Khusela Diko, Lindiwe Zulu, Stella Ndabeni-Abrams, Sihle Zikalala (voted number 1!) and Bheki Cele. The ANC, objectively, has no intention of ridding itself – or the country – of corruption or criminality. And Ramaphosa is the head of this hydra.

    • I cannot believe that Mahlobo is still a deputy minister! Or indeed holding any kind of post in cabinet. My theory is that Cyril is simply intent on building a band of loyal followers and the ones most likely to be loyal are the ones with skeletons in the cupboard. He then has a firm hold over them: either you vote for me ie. support me or I expose you as a criminal or banish you to the jobless wilderness much like what has happened to Ace. (Non of these useless individuals would get a job in the private sector). The bottom line is that he could not give a flying F%&$ for “Our Peeepol” (or the tax payer) but is simply intent on surviving as the leader of the ANC. Probably the most disappointing president we have had so far. In the beginning he looked promising but we now know that we won’t get any concrete action from him. We have to get rid of the whole sorry lot!

  • Richard Bryant says:

    The thing is, we ordinary people of society can do very little but watch or join protests or write comments like these. The odd person may be in a position to be a whistle blower but as we know, that can be perilous indeed!

    Ramaphosa on the other hand had extraordinary powers bestowed on him as President through the Constitution. He has a duty to act. It terms of those powers, if he actually decided to do what he says, corruption would be stopped in its tracks. But clearly he doesn’t want to confront corruption. In the meantime, people in his own party are being assassinated in the furtherance of corruption and he still does nothing. So what chance do we, the ordinary people of SA have?

    No, I think we must conclude that there are powerful people close to him and who are funding him through corruption and/or have information on him implicating him in corruption. And that he will keep talking about corruption and about its dangers and ending it, but without an iota of any intention to do anything.

  • José Lueje says:

    In my limited experience, everyone “politically connected”, even knows the level at which he or she can get involved.
    In the 30 years of Democracy, They, the “politically connected” have made an art and developed a system very difficult to break. Corruption is assumed, implicit and accepted, at all levels.

  • I have been thinking about this for a while now. I have been wondering why it is taking so long to oust corrupt members.

  • PETER BAKER says:

    It is abundantly clear that under an ANC government, at any level, corruption is OK and more so that it is encouraged. The ANC as a body corporate is full of wonderful platitudes but delivers nothing. In fact, it is guilty of breaking everything they touch. The ANC is genetically incapable of eliminating corruption. The sooner they are exiled into political obscurity the sooner South Africa will be able to get our house in order and have the society we all pray for.

  • With all the talking of corruption and fighting it. What happen to the Gold Mafia Investigation after the exposure of different entities, which was said to start in, was it March, this year?

  • Hermann Funk says:

    There is only one answer. Rates and taxes must be withheld and paid into trust accounts. As long as there is money to steal, they will carry on doing so.

  • Chris van Rensburg says:

    Almost 40 years ago the President sat on the opposite side of the table to me. When pushed to the wall, he turned away from admitting or even facing the truth. As he does now. That lack of morality and integrity has persisted. Reflecting on the change in him in the intervening years, makes me realise that his compass has been erroded to a blurry memory, and sadly he is far less powerful today than he is today. What a waste of all the money time and effort that was put into grooming him by so many, to be a great leader of this incomparable country of ours. Sickening to live through this disaster.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    My question is always the same: Where is the NPA? and of course the Hawks, Haha!

  • Ismail Lagardien says:

    I agree with everything that is said by Stephen. I don’t get paid per click… So, I wrote seven or eight years ago, in Daily Maverick, that one of the biggest problems in the way of busting crime is that you cannot possibly arrest one person for something, when everyone does the same thing. You can’t possibly arrest an entire village. I used my research on organised crime in Sicily as the basis for this. The exact Italian phrase “tutti colpevoli, nessuno colpevole” which translates (apologies for mistranslation) if one person is guilty then everyone is guilty.

  • Louis Fourie says:

    The ANC is an organised crime family masquerading as a political party. You might as well ask Vito Corleone to fight corruption.

  • What dismays me is that there are some South Africans who still believe anything that Cyril or any other ANC hack says. Back in the 1990s, while he was still president of the country, Mandela justified a salary hike for parliamentarians, on national TV, in terms of removing temptation for them to be corrupt. He knew then that his comrades were corrupt. How much more so today? WAKE UP and VOTE OUT!

  • Vas K says:

    Reading all the comments so far, EVERYBODY is sick and tired of the current criminals controling the country with the possible exception of the ANC mafia and its beneficiaries. Every word the government politicians utter is totally meaningles. It is meant only to pacify and trick the gullible and naive and our president is the worst culprit. Not everyone in South Africa is an idiot that the president obviously thinks we all are. South Africa has always had a fair share of problems it managed to overcome and I hope that will be the case again as far as the mafia is concerned.

  • Edwardmiller2008 says:

    Fighting corruption properly is not so much about setting a good example as:
    1. the perceived likelihood of being caught;
    2. expected probability of being punished if caught; and
    3. expected severity of punishment.

    All of which is lacking, of course.

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