Opinionista Susan Booysen 29 April 2021

Ramaphosa’s Zondo Show – platitudes and fables of renewal and resurrection

Cyril Ramaphosa’s evidence nevertheless illuminated the intersection of governing party and government – and how in cases of clashes of interest it has been (and is likely to continue to be) the party that prevails.

Susan Booysen

Susan Booysen is visiting and emeritus professor, University of the Witwatersrand. Her latest book, ‘Precarious Power: Compliance and Discontent Under Ramaphosa’s ANC’, explores the question of how the ANC, discredited and disgraced in so many respects, sustains its popular following and electoral support. It is published by Wits University Press and is available for sale and to order from bookshops and online retailers.

South Africa’s dual system of government, particracy in confluence with constitutional multiparty democracy, was at the centre of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s fables of renewal and resurrection at the Zondo Commission this week. 

The inputs revealed that the African National Congress (ANC) accepts that it has committed mistakes of corruption and capture, but that the ANC as a political party is not opening up to public scrutiny of its inner workings in relation to government – even if, in Ramaphosa’s words, the way in which the ANC functioned as political party “had an impact on how corruption happened”.

Ramaphosa’s under-oath evidence at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry shone light, modestly, on questions that have been dogging South African politics for close to two decades. Few of the expositions were new; they tended to offer confirmations of known political praxis. The details nevertheless illuminated the intersection of governing party and government – and how in cases of clashes of interest it has been (and is likely to continue to be) the party that prevails. 

Coming from the president of the ANC and South Africa, under oath and under unparalleled public scrutiny, even obfuscated details of South Africa’s confirmed dual system of party and constitutional government – which I also detail in my book, Precarious Power – were revealing. 

When it came to the interface of party and government, and the shadow ANC structures like the ANC Political Committee (subcommittee to the National Executive Committee) ruling over Parliament, Ramaphosa laboured to string together words that would not discredit his party. His work as leader of government business at the height of State Capture did not bring him closer to transparency. It was a facilitative, rather than an executive role, he explained. It took deft verbal footwork to answer questions honestly yet remain true to the über power of the ANC, the platform for his own power. Both Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and evidence leader Paul Pretorius allowed him the leeway.

When it came to the Ramaphosa forte, explanations that a new ANC is rising, he thrived. He recounted the fable of the dying eagle that rejuvenated itself and soared to new heights. He was aided by encouraging questions from Zondo; Pretorius even advised him on intra-organisational discipline and legal matters as they apply to members of voluntary organisations. 

Ramaphosa fumbled his way through explaining why it took the ANC roughly five years from the time of revelations of Gupta influence in government politics and Cabinet appointments, to the point of the Gupta Leaks, for ANC public representatives to start investigating.

Ramaphosa’s flashes of discomfort extended into his explanation of vote-buying in the ANC, which entered the Zondo conversation on the back of considering patronage as a distortion of the democratic system. He would merely confess that “we have talked about it”. He averred that the ANC’s new, streamlined digitised system means membership is no longer subject to human manipulation. He blossomed again when the platform allowed him the space to talk about the political will to rid the ANC of patronage.

Many blank spaces remained after the two days of Ramaphosa’s “evidence”. A selection of the broad strokes tells the tale delivered by a president who had to be careful not to implicate himself or his party by acknowledging illicit or immoral activities by reference to the specifics of deeds and names. 

There was confirmation that members of Parliament are but mere party political agents, subject not to the will of the people but to the ANC’s Political Committee. This committee controls, among others, the caucus, chief whip and the speaker. It is the political party that interprets how the will of the people will be represented in Parliament. Individual MPs are only to use their own consciences in rare cases. Ramaphosa confirmed that the ANC MPs, along with other ANC deployees, pay their monthly portion-of-salary contributions to their deploying agent, the “cash-strapped” ANC.

The ANC party politically has been benefiting from contributions from several state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including Telkom and Prasa. The president’s response was, “I agree, that should not happen” (unless money is given across the board to all political parties).

Before Ramaphosa’s appearance, the commission had heard a mass of testimony that the SOEs had been captured thoroughly and their states of disrepair and distorted finances probably rendered them cash cows for a hungry ANC. Their board appointments were patronage machines. The president acknowledged that “some things happened”. He added that there had been “massive system failure”.

On both days of his testimony the president referred to the new Political Party Funding Act as revolutionary. It came as an obvious relief that this instrument is on display as evidence of an initiative to remedy much of the ANC’s funding excursions into the state coffers. The president explained the delay in promulgating this act – from adoption by Parliament in 2018 to his signing it in 2019 and promulgating it, finally, in 2021 – in terms of intra-ANC and interparty consultation and persuasion processes that had to run their course. He reckoned this act “will save our democracy”.

Indirectly the ANC had accessed funding via procurement processes that offered massive gratitude donations. Bosasa was a case in point. The president opined that everything is wrong if a business wants something in return for a state contract, and that it is “a matter that should make us take a second look”.

The ANC president conceded that the ANC’s functionaries in the time of election campaigns knew that the ANC elections war room was a Bosasa project, but implied that this reality had passed him by. “It never really fully occurred to me” (that Bosasa was funding ANC election campaigns). He added: “I should have been aware.” Bosasa, according to Ramaphosa, was “one of those anomalous” happenings. 

The Gupta wedding plane landing at Waterkloof “raised eyebrows but it happened and that is how it happened”. He agreed that the Guptas donated to the ANC, but was uncertain whether they had funded the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung conference – the event that launched his ascendancy into the presidency.

Ramaphosa fumbled his way through explaining why it took the ANC roughly five years from the time of revelations of Gupta influence in government politics and Cabinet appointments, to the point of the Gupta Leaks, for ANC public representatives to start investigating. The president receded into the platitudes of “I accept and accede” and “at that level there was a dropping of the ball”.  “We were blinded by the events of the time”, and “we should have been more alert”.

Ramaphosa’s second-day style of narrative was bouncing off the first day’s evidence. Then the delicate (to the ANC) topic of cadre deployment, referred to mostly as “cadre development”, featured. The set answers were: “the ANC should have done more”, “the ANC may not have deployed the best cadres”,  “the ANC made mistakes”, “we did not always live up to our glorious values” and “we have not done enough to develop a culture of consequences”.

When it came to closing the president’s Zondo show, Pretorius remarked that the door on the past has been closed, but the president had not elaborated on who should be held accountable, and which enforcement agencies should do the honours. Ramaphosa promised upon his late May 2021 curtain call to elaborate on the network that the ANC and its government have established to disable the recurrence of ANC state corruption. DM

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All Comments 9

  • Thank you Professor. Your article is refreshing compared to the 2 articles posted by Marianne Merten, who prefer to rip the president to pieces, as if he can solely be blamed of the horrendous corruption that occurred under his predecessor’s watch, and who is too much of a coward to even testify.

  • The Cyril and Raymondo Show – South Africa’s alternative to Mogadon. We heard what we knew. Will it change anything? Of course not. The inertia is set in concrete.

  • Clearly, The president’s job is to plug the hole better, rather than pulling it. Am I surprised? No. But its good to know, for sure, on who’s side he is. So we are not fooled by forked-tonguery again.

  • So Bosasa was “anomalous” was it Cyril? The wisdom of “hindsight” is the unfortunate child of criminal neglect and we’ll toss it in the overflowing bin marked “plausible deniability”. What was ANC “government” doing that it was too busy to govern? This is what the commission is trying to uncover and you were trying not to answer. Despite mellifluous assurances of reform, what the president(s) testimony has made quite clear is the only guarantee of credible oversight would be an anti-corruption unit along the lines of a Chapter 9 institution which can operate free from political interference.

  • What country wants a president who is dealing with the truth in a very funny way, and under oath nogal? Even Brazil eventually locks them up, but not in SA. Most people suffer to see through all the waffle from a master who perfected his [email protected]#$ing skills over his entire lifespan.

  • The shades & replica of ‘we can & must can do better’ of Zuckerberg was all there ! Except that in that case he always had a phalanx of stern faced & grim lawyers in tow in the row behind him ! But this amiable show lacked the snap, crackle & pop of the serious congressional inquisition! B grade.

  • Not much new here, except a long book launch. The President whose power is vested in a party cannot be expected to lay into his party in a manner of the DA. Enough was conceded to confirm what we already know. Give him the support to wrest the NEC from the RET criminal faction. That’s now critical

  • Interesting trying to defend the indefensible. Let’s see more orange overalls as real evidence of change and a move away from failed state ideology – that is the real exam question !!

  • A great article Professor ! I like your implicit questioning of the President’s smooth answers and obvious deflections! He is , after all, the product of his party, and he can never be divorced from that! It informs everything he says and also what he does not say!

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