It is a ludicrous notion to even imagine that the African National Congress — a governing party that is riddled with factional battles, self-interest and greed — would be able to confront the delinquent that is former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Mhlanganyelwa Zuma.
It’s not surprising that the party’s Secretary-General Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule would be perplexed by why South Africans would want Zuma to be held accountable. We can all remember how this very political party mobilised every resource available to intimidate, threaten and silence anyone who dared question whether Zuma was upholding his constitutional obligations.
Zuma has never taken his oath of office seriously, and in his period out of office, he has been quite happy to continue parading his doublespeak version on reality, fuelling factional battles, shoring up his position to avoid accountability and to continue to lie to the people of South Africa. After all, Zuma has always been an oathbreaker and so there is nothing surprising in his behaviour or conduct. The reckoning that is so desperately needed in this country has been stalled by the speed at which the justice system moves, and particularly because the very same lost decade eroded state capacity to the benefit of criminals of the State Capture era.
Magashule is at pains to explain how structures of the ANC cannot demand that Zuma be held accountable by the very party that enabled and protected him, and worse enabled a lost decade that has destroyed public accountability, eroded our public finances, collapsed state institutions and subverted government to not serve South Africans, but rather only support the shadow state of Zuma, his enablers and gang of thieves. We are all reminded that ANC stalwarts, civil society, the media and outliers within the governing party battled to confront the hegemony of Zuma and State Capture.
The Zondo Commission was on 4 February 2021 confronted with heartbreaking testimony from former parliamentarian and ANC member Makhosi Khoza. A reminder again how those in positions of authority subverted their public responsibility in order to defend criminals while demonising those who dared question such blind allegiance. If it was not for the sacrifice and action of the many silent heroes, South Africa would still be swirling amid capture on steroids, and the further collapse of the country and its ability to serve the people.
South Africa is in desperate need of accountability. Accountability that does not subvert the Constitution, but rather upholds, defends and furthers the objectives of the hard work adopted by South Africa’s Constitutional Assembly. This is the only way to honour the sacrifice of the unsung heroes, communities and people who fought for this freedom and gave birth to our constitutional democracy.
The law must deal with Zuma and his blatant disregard of a ruling by the Constitutional Court when he elects to not make himself available at the Zondo Commission. Our focus as a society is, of course, to remind political parties that they owe a duty to the country and its people to hold their members accountable, particularly when they choose to selectively rely on the legislative and legal framework of the republic.
The work of the Zondo Commission has placed a glaring light on the well-being of our constitutional democracy and, in particular, how a culture focused on avoiding any accountability and responsibility has replaced any semblance of service. The missed opportunities since 1994 have continued to cascade and mushroom, which has adversely affected how our healthcare system works, revenue collection, policing and the well-being of the citizenry.
After this lost decade, the role that our Parliament plays in the country must be reconsidered. Parliament seems uninterested or tardy in holding the executive to account, and the office bearers and parliamentarians have a great deal more work to do to support and strengthen the work of rebuilding faith in public institutions and restoring a semblance of a meaningful compact of service.
In the absence of formal structures, South Africa’s democracy is eroded by conflationary tendencies where the African National Congress will engage with Cabinet ministers such as Ayanda Dlodlo and instruct her to account to the president for the nefarious conduct undertaken by the State Security Agency. The governing party has clearly understood its mandate and is clearly propped up by its election victories and is now choosing to behave in a completely misplaced and improper manner, believing that it should be calling national ministers to meetings in order to achieve outcomes.
The appropriate steps would be for Parliament to be seized with the matter and to consider moving legislative and regulatory agendas that will honour the Constitution and root out these tendencies. Equally, President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa perhaps should spend less time in photo-ops in airports and convene engagements with his own delinquent Cabinet colleagues — and also begin holding his Cabinet accountable and honest.
South Africans cannot be left waiting for years for the reform of how our elections are conducted, how our parliamentary system is constituted and, particularly, how the executive functions within our constitutional democracy. The wheels of justice move far slower than many of us would like, and strengthening the muscle and institutional memory is, of course, important, but what we now need is real policy interventions and new legislative efforts to confront these issues urgently.
Our collective efforts in the wake of these bald-faced deceits and lies should focus on confronting them head-on while demanding accountability. Importantly, punishment should be the consequence for those who fail in their mandate to simply uphold the Constitution and also fail to extend its values and objectives in all their work.
We have no business allowing these deceitful individuals masquerading as public representatives to continue peddling their vile nonsense. The shifts required are of tectonic proportions, and no single, simple policy shift will remedy all the ills that our country faces. South Africans will need to begin raising their voices in the weeks and months ahead if we are ever to rebuild trust and hope. DM