Unfortunately, in post-apartheid South Africa, it is not uncommon to hear people romanticising apartheid while lamenting the status quo. The refrain plays itself out in all our communities, in the corridors of white privileged circles or in the howls of working-class tribulations, the whispers and murmurings are there, “it was not like this in the past”, “things were better in the past”. We even see people calling for tax revolts yet they failed to do so during apartheid. Of course, this weird nostalgia is not one that our generation of “born frees” and “millennials” can easily acquaint themselves with, simply because we are born into a nation that is under construction.
From where I stand you could say that our society today and that of yesterday is fundamentally different. The strongest feature today is our approach to corruption. If there is anything that is out in plain sight for South Africans it is this, the stench of corruption in a democratic South Africa cannot be hidden. The truth almost always prevails. Perhaps our judicial system can be commended in this regard. Although at times you do not see or find strong references to aesthetic transformation in its composition, its commitment to a democratic state cannot be doubted. In other words, the supremacy of our Constitution is the foundation of reconstructing this nation.
The Zondo Commission, believe it not or not, provides some sort of reprieve for the governing party. While many argue that revelations at the commission bring the party into disrepute, you could argue that they actually test the party’s integrity and commitment to justice. For many years, the rumour mill has been rife with machinations of corruption within the ranks in one form or another. The party’s persistent view that the commission must take place in full view of the public in an electoral year is in accordance with the liberation stalwart, Oliver Tambo’s, sage advice, “let’s tell the truth to ourselves, even if the truth coincides with what the enemy is saying. Let us tell the truth”.
Part of telling the truth in this context is confronting corruption as the commission has done. Of course, there is a very important proviso that should linger at all times in the back of our minds, and that is that all the evidence we have heard from individuals at the commission is subject to cross-examination. In other words, there are two sides to a story and one should not conclude until both sides have been heard.
Having said that, the Zondo Commission has helped to open up important discussions. The first is whether Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment is an effective transformative tool. The second is whether the tender system is sustainable and capable of building the industries required to transform the otherwise uncompetitive industries in South Africa.
These are critical questions that need to be combed through carefully if the African National Congress is going to pursue its historical agenda of transforming the state in favour of those who have been historically disadvantaged. It is clear for all to see that tenders do not create industries, they instead assist in obfuscating the transformation imperatives of a national democratic revolution.
Thirdly, the commission has laid bare a very critical fact, which is that corruption knows no race. This is based on the exhaustive testimony and appearance of Angelo Agrizzi, bread cartels, 2010 World Cup construction cartels, and numerous others. These revelations highlight the concerted efforts by business in the private sector to secure government contracts at all costs. The profiling of corruption can no longer be exclusively around black government leaders but also on the corrupter. To this end, the narrative and/or analysis of corruption needs to extend to how the current tender system amplifies corruption.
I am not calling for the total abolition of tenders because public procurement is a financial instrument which the government could use to achieve environmental and other public policy goals, such as enhancing market efficiency. However, the State Capture Commission makes it plain that this policy requires significant reforms, one of those could be entrusting the Competition Commission supervisory authority for public procurement. If this is done procurement may benefit society and participants in the market. Better competition is good for everyone. This is the route to economic freedom. DM