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Ace Magashule’s bare-faced acknowledgment of procurement reality tells the truth about ANC ethics

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Thuto Radebe is an attorney and legal consultant based in Johannesburg. He graduated from the University of the Western Cape with a degree in law and political studies, and was also a tutor in the UWC Department of Political Studies. He completed his legal clerkship under Ratha Mokgoathleng, now a judge of the South Gauteng High Court.

Ace Magashule’s remarks that there is nothing wrong with relatives of ANC leaders and other politically connected individuals benefiting from government contracts and that there is no leader of the ANC who has not done business with the state, are shocking in their clarity. They reveal more about the ANC leaders’ understanding of ethics and morality than anyone has so far dared to confirm.

This past week, I have been closely following the discussions around the identity of those who benefit from state tenders. The spotlight has invariably fallen on individuals and companies that have some sort of connection to the ANC and its leaders, especially those serving in government.

Their explanations and justifications (“why can’t our children or wives be employed by or contract with the government?”), have left us with more questions than answers to dress a wound that has been left to fester for far too long. We have now been presented with a golden opportunity to confront it with urgent vigour in order to find a solution.

However, the statements that have been attributed to former President Jacob Zuma and ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule have illuminated how intractable the problem is and how far we are from finding a solution to the maladministration and poor governance that have fostered the corruption and plundering we are witnessing today.

First, let us examine the remorselessness of Zuma’s latest reminder of his existence and relevance. It is noticeable that since his sacking, Zuma has mastered the art of sending cryptic tweets about various developments or milestones that involve the government and/or the ANC. In the latest instalment, he has shared a pearl of wisdom in the form of an isiZulu idiom to the effect that “indlu yegagu iyanetha”, which when loosely translated means “those who speak well of themselves have their own weaknesses or problems”. To extend it further, it even means that no one is above reproach.

My rudimentary isiZulu informs me that Zuma is gleeful that the ANC and government institutions are still blighted by these scandals, long after his departure from the main table. It should be noted that he has always questioned why he has been singled out in all these corruption accusations that have been flying around. By this, Zuma has inadvertently been telling us that he is not the only one who is corrupt in the ANC. This may well explain why over the years he has threatened to spill the beans whenever there were calls for him to resign or to be prosecuted.

Zuma’s statement is an obvious jibe aimed at President Cyril Ramaphosa and his faction. He is reminding them (and us) that they are no better than him, that they are cut from the same cloth as him. If it is of any consolation to this grouping, Zuma is also laughing at all South Africans. He is saying that “you were hoodwinked into thinking that my downfall will lead to a corruption-free administration, now look at the persons you had pinned your hopes on”.

I posit that, by putting his view in the public domain, Zuma desires all of us to record that Ramaphosa’s House of ANC is rotten, that the New Dawn that we were promised has proven to be a damp squib. Instead, we must accept that each one of its proponents is drenched in contaminated and smelly water. Zuma evidently has a sadistic streak which he enjoys revealing when he sees fit.

It says much when a leader of the ANC stands on the rooftop to unequivocally confirm that it is normal and regularised for ANC leaders to engage in business with government departments and other state entities which are managed by the cadres that the ANC itself has deployed in terms of its cadre deployment policy.

More importantly, and quite ominously for our country and its future, the man from Nkandla has confirmed how far the corruption rot runs within the ANC and that replacing its leadership with different faces will not present us with any meaningful change. As long as we draw government leaders from the ranks of the ruling party, we will have the same complaints. In other words, corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability and all other afflictions that beset the ANC, are in its DNA.

Magashule’s utterances were not as cryptic as Zuma’s. His remarks that there is nothing wrong with relatives of ANC leaders and other politically connected individuals benefiting from government contracts and that there is no leader of the ANC who has not done business with the state, are shocking in their clarity and reveal more about the ANC leaders’ understanding of ethics, and morality than anyone has so far dared to confirm.

Some of its leaders, like Derek Hanekom, the ex-minister of tourism, have, however, been quick to deny that they and members of their families engage in these activities. Perhaps, as has been suggested in some quarters, Magashule’s remarks were “Freudian slips of monumental proportions”. Or was it some sort of epiphany?

No matter, for a leader of his stature to make these pronouncements without batting an eyelid has left me gobsmacked.

It says much when a leader of the ANC stands on the rooftop to unequivocally confirm that it is normal and regularised for ANC leaders to engage in business with government departments and other state entities which are managed by the cadres that the ANC itself has deployed in terms of its cadre deployment policy.

But must we really be shocked by Magashule’s statement? Not at all, when one considers that there is a structure called the ANC Progressive Business Forum which describes itself as “supporting business for 15 years in managing dialogues between business and ANC leaders”.

It is no secret that most of the directors of the companies that are members of the forum are also members of the ANC. We all know that these companies have been more than willing to make donations to the ANC. After all, their directors always interact with Cabinet ministers and other important decision-makers in government during ANC conferences and meetings. Inevitably, there is an expectation that in return, they will be handed government contracts.

It is clear that many within the ANC share Magashule’s view that it is not illegal for people who have relationships with leaders of the ANC or with those in government to benefit from state tenders. It is true that South Africa does not have a law that expressly prohibits this type of entanglement. Politically connected individuals who do business with the state have consequently been emboldened by this lacuna and have been happy to trot it out as a defence whenever their relationships with ANC or government leaders have been exposed and questioned.

The intersection of Magashule and Zuma’s statements paint a very bleak picture. Their impact, import and implications are far-reaching. They explain why South Africa is on the abyss, what caused it to be a “gangster state”, as has been suggested by Pieter-Louis Myburgh in his book.

This moral relativism is deep-rooted in our body politic. It informs the raft of scandals that are an intrinsic part of our political landscape of shame. It has accordingly encouraged the reinstatement of the VBS Bank rogues to their positions because “they have not been found guilty by a court of law”. It promotes the practice of ANC leaders who have relationships with Cabinet ministers, premiers, MECs or other influential officials in the supply management value chain (who all happen to hold positions in ANC structures), to obtain these state tenders on the ground that this practice “is not prohibited by law”.

However, they miss the point (or deliberately miss it), that this patronage network has allowed a “kraal mentality” to prevail. This renders it difficult for others to enter the kraal as access to tenders (even employment opportunities), is often reserved for ANC members, their relatives and lovers. The systematic exclusion of other South Africans is also unconstitutional as it infringes on their freedom of trade, occupation and profession, among others. A reincarnation of job reservation by the oldest liberation movement in the world!

There is a proposal to enact legislation which will regulate these relationships within the state procurement space. It remains to be seen what will be the threshold that will be put in place to govern the level, hierarchy and nature of these relationships. However, before the legislative process is finalised, we can rest assured that these players will mount strident resistance against any proposed legislative measures that may have a potential of interdicting their feeding frenzy at the trough.

The intersection of Magashule and Zuma’s statements paint a very bleak picture. Their impact, import and implications are far-reaching. They explain why South Africa is on the abyss, what caused it to be a “gangster state”, as has been suggested by Pieter-Louis Myburgh in his book.

These high-ranking leaders of the ruling party have put it on public record that the ANC is a behemoth with no moral scruples. It is even more apparent now that the ANC is a monolith that serves its own and some of its members’ interests. This is a party that is incapable of renewing itself for it would require that it sheds not only its skin, but also its very essence. Zuma and Magashule have done more than enough to warn us, to cajole, to jolt us, to call us to be vigilant. DM

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