There was no luxury of differentiating political from the governance problems. Those at the receiving end of the ‘Under Administration’ order from Cabinet are ANC deployees who had converted to Zumaism. Now they were in defiance of the directives (short of commands) of the ANC National Working Committee. The band of virtual political bandits went rogue. Supra Mahumapelo and his shrinking posse stepped back into the countryside beyond the provincial capital of Mahikeng, attempting a surreal rear-guard action.
The attempt is to sell his growing marginalisation as Ramaphosaist purges and divisive revenge. The guerrilla struggle tones of “retreat and regroup when under attack” would have been less misplaced without the group’s burden of corruption and enrichment from public resources.
The sensitivity to the Nasrec victors potentially embarking on purges, along with selective anti-corruption action, is probably unavoidable. As insurance, the main, Ramaphosaist body of the ANC and government has been careful in playing by the book, the law and the Constitution of South Africa (and this, possibly unavoidably, exposed them to being accused of playing “constitutional games”). Importantly, it has not yet been faulted for erring procedurally and legally.
There is no room for error in this game of chess-meets-poker – the timing of interventions is as crucial as the release of information on pending interventions. Every step unfolds at a front where an entire provincial government structure was to be issued with the sentence of diminished power, to counter vast networks of corrupted state operations. Cries of “factional purge” were to be expected. The battlefront is populated further by sprouting civil groupings and analysts who decry that President Cyril Ramaphosa is weak, not taking action as rapidly and decisively as the situation requires. In the quagmire between the two flanks is the analysis that Ramaphosa is using government interventions to solve his intra-ANC problems.
In the avalanche of interpretations of the Ramaphosa strategy it is important to see the wood for the trees. The North West Section 100 interpellation is a first in terms of being all-encompassing of the provincial government in question, plus most of the municipalities in the province, yet is still just the last in a series of preceding and approximately comparable interventions.
Section 100 interventions are not perfect – and in the Zuma era they have been used frequently to settle political scores. Limpopo province’s five departments under administration, in December 2011 (the main parts were reversed only in 2014), showed a typical fusion of national government’s political opportunism and settling scores with a pro-Julius Malema province, and a true need for intervention. Gauteng (Health and Treasury) Free State (Treasury, and Police, Roads and Transport) and Eastern Cape (Education) have been previous recipients of the Under Administration honours.
Similarly, Section 139 of the Constitution has seen 74 local governments put under administration by their provinces from March 1998 (starting with the collapse of Butterworth municipality) to September 2015, according to research by Wynand Greffrath and Gerrit van der Waldt. In October 2015 there was the controversial Cabinet to local intervention (done in terms of Section 100 too) with the Department of Human Settlements intervening in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Many of these local and provincial interventions gave Sections 100 and 139 actions bad reputations: besides factional revenge, only a handful of the interventions have delivered results that left the recipient departments and municipalities in a definitively better shape. The bulk of the improvements were marginal. Many of the local level interventions were conducted by provinces that were as factional and inept as the recipient municipalities.
It is this history of Section 100 that the Ramaphosa national government will have to confront. It would need to show, systematically (and Cabinet and the National Council of Provinces will be monitoring), that improvements are happening. If done correctly, and with the required focus and resources, the North West provincial-local intervention could still come to guide future corrections in other provinces.
Yet, even at this early stage and before the intervention starts formally (partly due to the work of the Inter-ministerial Task Team of ministers and bureaucrats) there are some line-function results. With the spotlight on the departments there is lessened scope for flagrant new abuses of public resources, at least not of the scope that by now epitomises the worst of governance collapse in the time of Zuma. Other provinces, the Free State and Eastern Cape in the front of the queue, know they are Section 100 candidates; immediate self-restraint in the corruption stakes might be a spin-off (alas, also minimisation of corruption footprints).
In the interim, the question will be asked as to why North West and not the other provincial candidates? The answer inevitably turns to the danger of responding to popular protest, perhaps violent (also one of the Supra-macists’ defences). The answer is, regrettably: South Africans since about 2005, and definitely in the time of Zuma, have learnt to use protest as their way to beckon government for accountability and delivery. They have known for at least the last 13 years that this is how South African government in all spheres works. Angry citizens did not need North West to teach them that protest of scale helps get delivery and accountability.
The actions to give effect to the anti-corruption Ramaphosa repertoire have been bolstered tentatively by the North West intervention. They are adding up, although many still need escalation, follow-through and wrap-up. Think, for example, the reconstitution of the boards of state-owned enterprises Eskom, Denel and Prasa. SARS boss Tom Moyane was suspended. Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo was appointed to lead the State Capture investigations. Jacob Zuma is confirmed to be facing corruption charges predating his presidency.
The current public protector may be investigated by a parliamentary ad hoc committee for fitness to hold office. There was a tentative (albeit with some glaring gaps) Cabinet reshuffle. Assets linked to State Capture are being seized and the National Prosecuting Authority is using preservation orders against McKinsey and the Gupta-linked Trillian. Disgraced Richard Mdluli is no longer SAPS head of intelligence. The Russian nuclear deal has been contained. Above all, there is suppression (although not elimination) generally of public sector corruption, because there are consequences. DM