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President Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle removes the cancerous prostate gland after the infected cells have spread

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Dr Thozamile Botha is a member of the Stalwarts and Veterans Group of the ANC. He has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Johannesburg.

The changing of the car to a low gear to enable its wheels to gain traction is not in and of itself a bad move. The real question is whether the road beyond this point is smooth enough to enable the car to accelerate and avoid getting caught in the mud again. Neither the president nor the ANC membership would be able to respond to this question with absolute confidence.

President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to have done what sections of the population were calling for: reshuffle the Cabinet and get rid of the Jacob Zuma state capturers. For some people, the call for a reshuffle had no specific purpose in mind, except to rid the government of the Zuma faction within the Cabinet. There was no clear ideological or policy objective for which the reshuffle was intended. This is not surprising because the differences between the factions are not ideological; they are more tactical and functional. The call was aimed at pushing out one faction so that the other faction can get its opportunity to eat. The problem of looting and corruption was not limited to the pro-Zuma state capturers. President Ramaphosa’s reshuffle might have achieved the opposite of what the majority of the ANC members and the nation at large wanted to achieve, namely, a corruption-free state and government. 

However, what the president seems to have achieved was bolting the kraal after the cattle had walked out. A simple analogy for this situation is a doctor performing a procedure on a prostate cancer patient without checking if the cancer cells are still locked inside. Removing the cancerous prostate gland after the cancer-infected cells had spread out beyond the prostate neighbourhood does not help the body of the patient, in this case corporate South Africa. The reshuffling of the Cabinet by the president seems to have been more for self-preservation rather than for saving the country. It was a carefully calculated balancing act where the president had to navigate between the two main factions: the Zuma faction and the other. Making them both equally happy is a tall order. 

The pro-state cancer procedure may have been successful but the results may be devastating. To the membership and the nation, the feeling that a procedure has been carried out has a calming effect, while the cancer cells continue to destroy the other body parts and, ultimately, the entire body. There are two possible reasons the president might have decided to take this approach. Firstly, he may not have wanted to rattle the political cage within the ANC factions, the effect of which would have been the potential for his isolation or further weakening his support going into the National General Council. Secondly, he may have believed that he is consolidating and strengthening his power base by succumbing to pressure to remove some ministers and inadvertently giving way to the other faction to eat. This Mafia-style management strategy works with blackmailing, and it reduces the government and the state organs to instruments of the Mafia Gangs. It is the group leaders who benefit at the end of the day and not the people. 

However, the president, in his wisdom to limit the damage and to protect himself, has made sure to bring the security cluster to his office, coupled with the appointment of the security advisory panel. Interestingly, section 209 (2) authorises the president to take political responsibility for intelligence organs of state or to appoint a member of his Cabinet. He very subtly placed those powers directly upon himself as he has only appointed a deputy in his office to assist with this responsibility. This often happens in countries where the president is uncertain about his support and fears factions opposed to him. This decision by the president may be a function of political contestation for power among the different factions within the governing party. 

However, this problem may be exacerbated if those divisions are embedded within the security agents where there is a political disconnect among them as advisers, on the one hand, and between them and the security departments, on the other. 

However, this is not the problem the president should be worried about, for now at least. The real challenge the president faces is political survival. There are some among the party leadership who are calling for his head while others are seeking to manipulate him to fight their own battles for survival. In both instances, the president is a likely loser. Given that the white-collar looting is not limited to a particular faction, it is widespread among the different factions, as a result the political allegiances are not on solid ground and are often blurred. 

The power base of the president is not Cabinet, it is the ANC National Executive and the branches. Given that the ANC branches are often referred to as branches of members, members get bought by those who stand to gain by either getting directly elected or having their sponsors elected. The inability of the president to consolidate his power base at this level suggests that he remains vulnerable. If his power base is weak at this level, trying to remedy it only at the state National Executive level is only addressing the symptoms of the political factions and the cancer of corruption while leaving white-collar looting to continue without any vaccine to mitigate its aggression. 

It is interesting to note what happened in the Department of Water and Sanitation, where corruption investigations were ongoing with imminent arrests and likely convictions. These investigations rattled some people in certain circles. It remains to be seen if the reshuffle will have any impact on the investigation processes that had been initiated. This casts no aspersions on the political incumbents, but the strings are sometimes pulled from elsewhere. There is a subtle continuum in the exercise of corrupt practices across all state departments and state-owned enterprises. This is not unique or isolated to Water and Sanitation. 

On 3 November 2020, the Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation parliamentary committee had asked the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) what challenges it had encountered in its investigations. It was told that at Lepelle Northern Water (LNW), the SIU had identified project management issues, including a failure to comply with public service management regulations with regard to supply chain management, failure to heed professional engineering advice, and poor project management oversight by the department. The former chief executive officer of the LNW had used the state institution’s funds to delay and challenge the SIU’s investigations. This had hampered the investigation.

Furthermore, the SIU told the portfolio committee that it had investigated the Department of Water and Sanitation on allegations to do with the purchasing of unnecessary SAP licences for more than R500-million, and receiving a payment of R35-million in kickbacks. Proclamation No R54 of 2012 dealt with various allegations at the Department of Water and Sanitation. The SIU had conducted investigations into about 34 allegations. Issues that had been uncovered included procurement irregularities, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, irregular expenditure, fraud and theft, and corruption. The investigation had resulted in 58 different referrals. The SIU had expressed concern at the Department of Water and Sanitation’s method of handling referred cases. There was a delay in the implementation of the SIU’s recommendations to discipline officials. In addition, the Department of Water and Sanitation had closed disciplinary measures on the basis of presentations made by implicated officials without consulting the SIU.

Moreover, the SIU had assisted the Department of Water and Sanitation with the oversight and recovery of money that it had lost to a Mr Senokwane, an SAP consultant who was on a contract with the department. The Department of Water and Sanitation had lost R7.9-million to the Sundays River Valley municipality through the Amatola Water Board, which had used the municipality as the implementing agent for the Paterson Bulk Water Supply Project in the Eastern Cape.

Lead investigator at the SIU Gina Beretta-Pretorius also briefed the committee on the status of the Vuwani investigation to do with the construction of the 800mm diameter Vuwani steel pipeline. The construction of the pipeline had been impacted by the Department of Water and Sanitation’s failure to comply with the public service management regulations with regard to supply chain management, failure to heed professional engineering advice and poor project management and oversight by the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Proclamation R22 of 2016 had to do with the LNW, and its contract with LTE Consulting. The SIU had identified project management issues, including a failure to comply with public service management regulations with regard to supply chain management, failure to heed professional engineering advice, and poor project management oversight by the DWS.

According to the SIU report on the state of service delivery in Giyani, the SIU had observed that there was no water and there had been maladministration with the Giyani project to do with the construction of boreholes. Ms Pretorius told the committee that the SIU had experienced a number of challenges with the LNW investigation. For example, the former chief executive officer of the LNW had used the state institution’s funds to delay and challenge the SIU’s investigations.

In addition to briefing the committee on Proclamation R22 of 2016 dealing with the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements and the contract that it had awarded to LTE Consulting at the Sweetwaters informal settlement, Ms Pretorius referred to Proclamation R27 of 2018 to do with contracts awarded by the Department of Water and Sanitation to SAP. She told the committee that it had investigated the Department of Water and Sanitation on allegations to do with the purchasing of unnecessary SAP licences for more than R500-million, and receiving a payment of R35-million in kickbacks. The SIU had uncovered that the contract value was about R950-million, excluding VAT, consisting of R450-million for the SAP licence fees, plus maintenance over five years. 

In conclusion, it remains to be seen if the reshuffle and the concentration of intelligence power in the presidency will be able to accelerate the rate of finalisation of the corruption cases in the departments. In a Mafia-style state-run administration, chaos and the collapsing of the controls and monitoring systems is the norm as it is designed to destroy paper trails and evidence. If the president’s reshuffle has failed to arrest this leakage and the corruption in the service delivery system, whichever way we look, the reshuffle will have fallen flat. The procedure will have been performed but the cancer cells will have bolted. 

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