The full extent of the damage caused by the State Capture project is still being counted cent by cent with the staggering extent of professional collusion being revealed at the proceedings of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
However, the project and subversion of the state has not simply stolen the dreams and opportunities from everyday South Africans, pillaged state resources and subverted democratic institutions, it has also altered the way public power is exercised. The legacy of that seditious project was to reveal how far too many politicians prioritise convenience, expediency and self-interest over any semblance of service or public good. The project used state resources to shield and protect the worst instincts in our society and spawned a systemic erosion and collapse of public good, honesty and integrity.
The lingering effects of the project remain entrenched across government and society at large. We only need to look at the Covid-19 procurement scandals to realise that corrupt businesspeople and politicians continue to look for opportunities to rob from the public purse in order to fund their extravagant lifestyles.
The extent of the rot, criminality and immorality was revealed by the Auditor-General, who at the time flagged various procurements across the country as being riddled with irregular and corrupt procurement focused more on self-interest and greed than it was about a country besieged by a humanitarian and health crisis.
On Wednesday, 9 December 2020, Tsakani Maluleke, South Africa’s new Auditor-General, building on the work of the late Kimi Makwetu, acknowledged that the South African government “could have reached more people if the funds made available for the Covid-19 pandemic were better controlled in government”.
The shock factor and ability to disappoint South Africans have all but been exhausted. It is not surprising that essential resources were diverted and subverted for the greed and self-interest of a few. The consequences of this irregular and corrupt procurement may be dealt with by specialised investigating units focused on achieving expedited outcomes, but the rot continues to lurk under the veneer of service delivery and the public good.
Talk of lifestyle audits and similar interventions sadly remain ineffective and unable to reveal the sophistication and sophistry that is deployed by public servants and elected representatives who have worked very hard to crook the system. A far more extensive and focused programme of action will need to be developed and coordinated by various law enforcement agencies to unravel the sophistry and layers of malfeasance that exist under the guise of proper procurement and clean audits.
The heavy lifting in protecting our democracy during the State Capture years was carried by the judicial system, civil society, the media and outspoken activists, but in order to confront the systemic degradation of our collective morality, extensive state capacity and machinery will have to be redirected in order to restore faith and trust in our political system. The evasion and abuse of legal process, funded by state coffers, has enabled implicated individuals to avoid confronting the truth or justice.
The Stalingrad tactics perfected by the likes of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma and John Hlophe now constitute the calling card of politicians, public servants and business people who have not simply put self-interest above all else, but sought to use the justice system to avoid their “day in court” with the expedient use of conspiracy theories. This evasion of justice simply seeks to erode any trust that South Africans have in the system. The continued abuse focused solely on avoidance plays out across our civil and criminal justice system, perfected in most instances with the full use of the public purse to fund legal theatrics and shenanigans.
The erosion of public good and service to the country may have been perfected during the State Capture years, but that conduct existed during the origins of South Africa’s democratic project. Negotiations and arrangements needed to be made in order to facilitate a peaceful transition from the criminal apartheid regime to a representative and constitutional democracy. Corruption and malfeasance surfaced during the Nelson Mandela administration as it did during the Thabo Mbeki administration, as it has surfaced during the Cyril Ramaphosa administration.
Corruption and malfeasance have not been the only threat to South Africa’s democratic foundations — indifference and placing party before state have cost us far too much. The African National Congress, as the governing party, has time and time again sought to protect its leaders during Mbeki’s denialism around HIV/Aids and the insistence that a fire pool existed at Nkandla. The deranged logic not only stole money from the public purse, but in many instances unnecessarily cost the lives of South Africans.
Today, convenience trumps the truth with the ANC willing to implement its policies and positions only when it is convenient. The erosion and collapse of South Africa’s social compact has in large part been spurred on by the ANC refusing to act against its own leaders, and the only remedy to start rebuilding trust will be to implement policies and positions regardless of the possible political consequences for doing the right thing.
The so-called step-aside rule is not convenient for implementation given the position that Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule holds within the party, but also because he holds a powerful constituency and can cause extensive damage to the current leadership of the ANC if he is forced into suspension.
Convenience and expedience are common commodities and tools of the trade for politicians (especially those trying to avoid accountability), but it further seeks to degrade our fragile constitutional democracy. The ANC’s Integrity Commission will be confronted with someone over the weekend who has been charged with corruption and implicated further in a series of illegal activities in testimony at the Zondo commission — but what will matter more is that he holds the position of ANC secretary-general. DM