A “shadow state” has been described “as a form of personal rule; that is, an authority that is based upon the decisions and interests of an individual, not a set of written laws and procedures, even though these formal aspects of government may exist” – like in South Africa.
In South Africa, a shadow state is emerging as “some politicians and a few businessmen exercise significant political authority” through manipulation of procedures and processes to facilitate “private control” of public resources. There is “institutional decay” as formal state structures collapse.
In her last report, former public protector Thuli Madonsela sounded shocking alarm bells about state capture and recommended that the President appoint a “commission of inquiry headed by a judge solely selected by the Chief Justice who shall provide one name to the President”. Zuma has gone to court, arguing that this recommendation was unconstitutional as it usurped his powers, as only the President could appoint a commission of enquiry and determine its terms of reference and composition.
In response to the crisis and lack of trust in government, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) initiated the “Unburdening Panel” in April 2016, drawing from the Bible: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2).
The Unburdening Panel was led by the President of the SACC, Bishop Zipho Siwa, and included Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, retired Justice of the Constitutional Court; Dr Brigalia Bam, a previous General Secretary of the SACC and former Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and Bishop Mosa Sono, Presiding Bishop of Grace Bible Church in the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa.
The Unburdening Panel is described as “a facility offered by the churches to any person in the Republic of South Africa who may wish to relieve herself or himself of the burden” of being forced or implicated in inappropriate action. “Unburdening” hearings were held across the country. The SACC was well aware that this was not a legal approach, but rather a pastoral process.
During the hearings, the SACC was “alarmed by the fear factor in the faces of the people that have wished not to be publicised. People who have lost their jobs; people who fear for their lives, but who want to say something to unburden themselves so that they can sleep with a measure of peace”.
Reporting on the findings on 18 May 2017 at the historic Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, the Secretary-General of the SACC, Bishop Malusi, said: “We have come to recognise that South Africa may just be a few inches from the throes of a Mafia state from which there may be no return, a recipe for a failed state … It now seems that the problem is far greater than corruption, but organised chaos. We have now come to learn that what appears to be chaos and instability in government may well be a systemic design of the madness that ills our political environment, a chaotic design”.
There were instances where employees at different government levels were coerced to “divert funds inappropriately to certain activities that had nothing to do with the work and purpose of the budget”. Others were pressurised to manipulate tender processes in “favour of certain companies and individuals‚ or bend and tailor regulations for a specific desired outcome”.
Collation and analysis of the material collected during the “unburdening” hearings revealed damning tendencies of “inappropriate control of State systems through a power-elite that is pivoted around the President of the Republic that is systematically siphoning the assets of the State”.
According to Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Chairperson of the National Church Leaders Forum, “there is a discernible pattern of a project to undermine and render the state and its institutions impotent and governance compromised and potentially derailed in the interests of alternative nefarious purposes”.
He emphasised that every effort must be made to identify and terminate the state capture project in all levels of government and state-owned enterprises. The responsibility to do this lies with the ANC government, before the “irreversible point of constitutional illegitimacy” is reached. However, if this tipping point is reached, then the ANC leadership must take responsibility for the dire consequences.
State capture can be countered by strong multiparty political competition, and robust civil society structures. A free, critical press and independent judiciary is vital (a bane to the ANC government) – without which South Africa would have long gone down the Zimbabwe route. Reverend Frank Chikane warned, “We cannot allow this country which held so much promise for the people of South Africa, Africa and the world to be reduced to the morass of death and destruction in pursuance of the sectarian interests of the few against the majority of our people.”
In the absence of a tangible government response to serious allegations of state capture and corruption, the church is filling the breach (more than 80% of South Africans are Christians). The faith sector with its focus on honesty, justice, integrity and righteousness is perhaps the last bastion of hope for South Africans. The SACC is well placed to lead such a campaign, like in the anti-apartheid struggle, and can forge alliances with workers, youth, women and other like-minded groups in the struggle to restore morality and ethics in government. DM
Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity.
Bumblebees can fly higher than Mount Everest.