Opinionista Kimal Harvey 23 January 2018

Truth seeking must continue to define our South African landscape

State Capture must be further investigated, but so should all the major events of the past, post and during apartheid.

The ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, in Gauteng, will prospectively discuss the fate that will befall President Jacob Zuma. Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the ANC, for the first time as its new president, epitomised the symbolic passing of the flame. The emphasis during the ANC’s 106th anniversary was on addressing corruption and economic stability. In the wake of the State Capture report released in 2016 this promise to fight corruption is more of a necessity now than ever. The posture that the ANC exudes is one of rehashing empty promises and condoning impunity. Especially, given lack of remorse or regret demonstrated by President Jacob Zuma’s faction within the ANC. Zuma will remain the head of state until 2019, when presumably Ramaphosa will succeed him. To date, Ramaphosa has been expectedly diplomatic and vague regarding what the ANC should do with regards to Zuma’s fate. Consequently, we can surmise that perhaps no radical action will be meted out to Zuma for the foreseeable future.

In an interview with eNCA, Ramaphosa promised that he and the ANC would welcome a commission of inquiry into the issue of State Capture. Moreover, he stated that if it were revealed that wrongdoing has occurred then there would be “action and consequence,” that follows. Ramaphosa has an opportunity here to rebuild the relationship between the public and the ANC, especially with regards to accountability. Since 2001 the Department of Justice has set up 11 commissions, four of which had implicated high level corporate and government officials, including the Donen Commission, the Arms Commission, and the Marikana Commission. The latter commission interestingly implicated Ramaphosa himself, and the commonality shared by these commissions is that all key implicated actors were in effect absolved of all charges.

In order to demonstrate a commitment towards addressing impunity, the commission of inquiry into State Capture provides the governing ANC a seminal opportunity to reassert its commitment to the founding principles of the South African Constitution, and to also restore legitimacy among the electorate by demonstrating a willingness to genuinely uphold the notions of accountability and transparency.

Truth seeking has defined South Africa’s political landscape since the transition to freedom in 1994. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in order to expose the atrocities committed during apartheid. The parties involved decided that a more restorative transitional justice route should be implemented as opposed to the prevailing retributive forms of justice which are implemented through criminal tribunals. Specifically, the TRC employed truth seeking and amnesty tactics to investigate and document the horrific crimes of the past. The aforementioned commissions of inquiry thereafter followed this model, in particular the Marikana Commission. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is some nominal support for the use of truth seeking processes. However, there are concerns about what truth seeking processes deliver in practice. The TRC did recommend some cases to be further prosecuted but this still has not materialised. Moreover, the commission only investigated very specific crimes that violated the victim’s human rights directly.

Therefore, violent crimes were prioritised over structural political and economic crimes. In effect, the TRC did not investigate and economic crimes which were central to the maintenance of the brutal apartheid regime, and the legacies of this omission are evident in the vast levels of inequality and poverty that continue to haunt the South African society. This is a relevant issue given the corporate malfeasance of accounting companies like KPMG, and the corrupt acquisition of funds by McKinsey. It is vital for the ANC to ensure that high-level politicians and large corporate institutions do not get away with only a slap on the wrist.

Ramaphosa’s rhetoric for being tough on corruption and welcoming of the State Capture inquiry would suggest a new era for transitional justice in South Africa. While inquiries into the State Capture crisis may seem more relevant right now, there are broader transitional issues that need to be addressed, including socio-economic justice, reparations and the building of bridges between communities across the country.

State Capture must be further investigated, but so should all the major events of the past, post and during apartheid. Economic injustices and social structures post-apartheid are still yet to be appropriately addressed, especially with cases such as the arms deal post-apartheid and the massive apartheid arms trade revelations highlighted in Hennie Van Vuuren’s Apartheid, Guns and Money (2017). “Corruption” has become a trigger word used by politicians and leaders alike so they sound like they are taking action. It is a sound bite for their voters to digest in the ballot box. President Zuma would like to continue this farce; create an inquiry of mystery and inaction. Ramaphosa, the apartheid trade unionist and the calculating pragmatic businessman, has to mean what he says and deliver on urgently required reform in South Africa. Ramaphosa must break with the disingenuous practices of his predecessor and his political operatives.

Kimal Harvey is a Programme Intern in the Peace building Interventions Programme, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Cape Town, @_IJR_

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