Defend Truth


South Africa will not survive a return to kleptocracy led by Dlamini Zuma


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

Support for the lockdown is in rapid decline. President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to be decisive and to act now before he loses control of the situation.

In the early days of the lockdown, the government’s measures had extraordinary support across the board. There was a palpable sense of relief that government was now governing rather than looting. And, as many observers have noted, after Thabo Mbeki’s disastrous denialism around the HIV/Aids pandemic, there was also real relief that our top medical scientists were being taken seriously by government. And many South Africans, looking at the antics of right-wing buffoons like Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump, took real pleasure in being able to take some pride in Cyril Ramaphosa.

But the support for the lockdown is in rapid collapse. For many poor and working-class people, the lockdown has meant routine police brutality, violent and illegal evictions at the hands of the state and an inability to earn an income, which has swiftly translated into hunger. All this has rapidly destroyed consent for the lockdown. Food riots are becoming increasingly common and across the country, people are quoted in the media as saying that they fear starvation more than Covid-19. Corruption around food parcels has incensed people and escalated popular anger.

For the middle classes, it has been the overweening and irrational nature of some of the regulations that have slowly undermined the legitimacy of the lockdown. For example, there is, as many have pointed out, no rational reason why outdoor exercise is only permitted between 6am and 9am.

But there are two other factors that are causing serious concern across the board. One is that Level 4, which was meant to be an easing of what many had called the strictest lockdown in the world, has included a curfew and the deployment of more or less the full strength of the army on the streets. A curfew is a profound restriction of basic freedoms, one normally associated with an occupying power during a war.

To make matters worse, South Africans have no reason to trust the army. During the first phase of the lockdown, the police were so abusive that the United Nations saw fit to condemn their conduct. Soldiers are not trained for policing operations, they are trained for war. The army did not stop crime when it was deployed to the Cape Flats, but it did engage in serious abuses against ordinary people. Deploying the army is a serious risk to people’s wellbeing, and to democratic norms.

With the Marikana massacre and the everyday violence, and brutality of our police force fresh in our minds, there is deep concern across class, and across the political spectrum, about the imposition of a curfew and the fact that the army will be enforcing it. With food riots escalating by the day, there is a real risk of another state massacre.

Another factor that has generated serious concern about lockdown Level 4 across class and across the political spectrum, is the seeming rise to power of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. South Africans have every right to be seriously concerned about this development. Dlamini Zuma fully associated herself with the kleptocracy run by her ex-husband, as well as its most nefarious backers in the form of people like the truly repulsive Carl Niehaus, and controversial businessmen like Adriano Mazzotti.

Mazzotti, of course, is a key figure in the tobacco industry, and because the tobacco smugglers stand to profit handsomely from the lockdown, social media is awash with speculation that Dlamini Zuma was acting for the mafia when she extended the tobacco ban. However, this has been disputed by Mazzotti and there is no evidence at all to suggest that this conspiracy theory is true, but her past association with Mazzotti is an established fact.

But the tobacco issue is a sideshow. The urgent issue is that somehow the person who was willing to lead the kleptocratic faction of the ANC has emerged with significant power in this crisis. South Africans, whether rich or poor, have every right to be seriously disturbed by this development. 

None of us knows just how badly this crisis will hit our economy, but it seems clear that millions will lose their jobs and other forms of income. Millions will experience rapid downward mobility. Retrenchments were already at crisis levels before the virus hit and are going to explode in the coming weeks. Circumstances will be dire. Hunger, which was already at crisis levels before the virus hit, will start to affect families who had thought that their lives were on a firm footing. Middle-class people will start to lose their homes and have to withdraw their children from expensive schools.

We are going to face extremely tough times. But facing such tough times with a credible leadership is one thing. Facing such tough times with a deeply compromised leadership is another thing. 

Ramaphosa is a billionaire with standard neo-liberal politics. But, compared to Jacob Zuma or Trump, he strikes many as a decent man. Despite what some saw as his proximity to the forces that ordered the Marikana massacre, most South Africans were willing to trust him when the lockdown started.

But there is simply no way that South Africans can be expected to trust the person who led the kleptocrats in the battle for control of the ANC. Dlamini Zuma’s credibility has been permanently compromised.

If Ramaphosa, and his best ministers, people like Zweli Mkhize, Ebrahim Patel and others, want to sustain public support for the lockdown, they need to remove Dlamini Zuma and all other politicians compromised by their association with the kleptocracy from the National Command Council. They also need to act decisively against Bheki Cele whose bellicose militarism is a serious threat to democratic values. It is also necessary to stop evictions, rein in the police and remove restrictions on basic freedom that have no scientific basis.

The worst-case scenario for the medium-term future is that we find ourselves in an unimaginable economic crisis, with mass suffering, a reconstituted kleptocracy in government and the army remaining in the streets to control the inevitable protests and food riots. Our democratic aspirations will not survive a situation like this.

Ramaphosa needs to be decisive and to act now before he loses control of the situation. DM


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