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The corruption-busting race is not to the swift… don’t write off the slow power of tortoise Ramaphosa

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Since he was elected in February 2018, the South African president has taken decisive steps to end State Capture, fight corruption and rebuild damaged public institutions.

The race began in January 2018, the populace had been clamouring for Jacob Zuma to go. For the first time in democratic South Africa, we saw civil society taking to the street to say enough is enough. We are not blind to our country being raped and pillaged of every iota of resources. We want change and we want it now!

The ANC knew that this was the heartbeat of a nation, hence a change had to come into effect at the very important Nasrec elective conference in December 2017. And boy, did the change come with such dramatic scenes as we saw on television when the Zuma faction lost. The first hurdle now, in January 2018, was to rid the country of the president who allowed State Capture to flourish right under his leadership. The moment came on Valentine’s Day — there was no love lost between Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. We saw Zuma’s back.

The next hurdle was to reduce the Cabinet and rid it of at least the bad apples. No fewer than 10 ministers were shown the door. The tortoise moved swiftly.

Since he was elected in February 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken decisive steps to end State Capture, fight corruption and rebuild damaged public institutions. With regards to his promise to rid us of corruption, these are some of the measures taken by tortoise Ramaphosa:

  • He replaced boards in several captured SOEs with competent, credible people: Eskom (January 2018); Denel (April 2018); and Transnet (May 2018);
  • He instituted the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into SARS, which found severe governance and operational failures (May 2018);
  • He appointed new leadership at the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), which has restored credibility and stability and led to tangible action against alleged corruption (May 2018);
  • He appointed a High-Level Panel on the State Security Agency towards rebuilding and restoring the integrity of our intelligence services, which made several recommendations to end corruption and politicisation of the agency. These are being implemented (June 2018);
  • He established the Mpati Commission of Inquiry into allegations of impropriety at the Public Investment Corporation, whose findings and recommendations have led to remedial measures being instituted at the PIC (Oct 2018);
  • He then, rightfully so, terminated the appointment of Tom Moyane as SARS Commissioner following the Nugent Commission recommendations (November 2018);

And it doesn’t stop there. He appointed a new National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) on the recommendations of a panel established to consider candidates, the first time a president has formally sought the advice of legal experts and made the process public (December 2018).

The president then appointed the SIU Special Tribunal to expedite civil claims against corrupt individuals and the recovery of stolen funds (February 2019).

He removed advocates Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi from the NPA based on the findings of the inquiry into their fitness to hold office (April 2019).

He then established the NPA Investigating Directorate to focus on prosecution of state capture and other significant corruption cases (May 2019).

He launched the Health Sector Anti-Corruption Forum, a multi-stakeholder body to identify, investigate and prosecute corruption in the health sector (October 2019).

He amended the Zondo Commission regulations to enable sharing of information and resources with the NPA. This was a significant change in the terms of reference of the commission (July 2020).

Then, in response to allegations of corruption in Covid-related procurement, Ramaphosa:

  • Established the Fusion Centre to strengthen the collective efforts among nine law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute Covid-related corruption;
  • Authorised the SIU to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state (July 2020); and
  • Allowed the published details of all Covid procurement contracts online, with the intention that it should set a precedent for transparency in public procurement (August 2020).

With regards to the management and leadership provided during the actual pandemic, decisive action and responses were also forthcoming, including:

  • A swift introduction of restrictions to delay the spread of coronavirus while strengthening health care facilities, saving tens of thousands of lives;
  • Implementation of the most extensive health intervention in the country’s history, administering over 30 million vaccine doses to date; and
  • Secured over 500 million vaccine doses for the African continent.

More specifically, the president In July 2020, authorised the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe all allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state. As at end August 2021, the SIU had:

  • Identified over 4,000 contracts for investigation, of which 1,290 had been finalised. Irregularities were identified in 495 of these contracts and action is being taken;
  • Referred cases worth R1.4-billion to the Special Tribunal in order to have contracts set aside and recover lost funds;
  • Referred 148 individuals and entities to the National Prosecuting Authority for possible criminal action;
  • Referred 127 government officials for disciplinary action and three political office bearers for executive action; and
  • Prevented losses to the state worth R580-million through contracts cancelled, payments stopped and having service providers sign acknowledgement of debt agreements where contracts were awarded irregularly.

Ramaphosa established the Fusion Centre to strengthen the collective efforts among nine law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute Covid-related corruption. Among the achievements of the Fusion Centre are:

  • Coordination of the investigation and, where necessary, prosecution of 312 Covid-related cases with an estimated value of R11-billion;
  • The appearance of 39 accused persons in 23 criminal court cases across the country; and
  • In total, approximately R878.7-million has been recovered by the centre and placed into the fiscus. This includes the recovery by SARS of R252-million in taxes.

In August 2020, government published details of all Covid procurement contracts online — which was a first in South Africa — with the intention that it should set a precedent for transparency in public procurement. This is a live database that is regularly updated, covering over 580 government departments and public institutions and providing the details of over 13,000 suppliers.

Following the identification of instances of fraud, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has worked with law enforcement agencies to recover around R827-million of fraudulent payments, and apprehended at least 17 suspects who have appeared in various courts for defrauding the scheme.

The SIU conducted an investigation into a R150-million contract that was allegedly irregularly awarded by the Department of Health to a company called Digital Vibes. Arising from the investigation:

  • A preservation order for R22-million was granted by the Special Tribunal;
  • Nineteen referrals have been made to the National Prosecuting Authority with respect to alleged fraud, corruption and money laundering;
  • Seven officials have been referred for disciplinary action; and the former minister was referred for executive action; and
  • R11.5-million has so far been recovered for work not performed.

And if this was not enough, the tortoise also showed great care for our citizens during this hour of great need. For our vulnerable workers and households he:

  • Introduced massive social and economic relief packages for companies, workers and households affected by the economic effects of Covid;
  • Companies were supported through tax relief, small business grants, permit fee waivers and loan guarantee schemes;
  • Covid Social Relief of Distress grants were introduced within a few weeks, initially reaching about six million people and currently reaching over 10 million people;
  • Around R63-billion in special UIF wage support benefits have been paid out to workers in vulnerable sectors, keeping businesses afloat and preventing even more job losses; and
  • The Presidential Employment Stimulus provided over 800,000 work and livelihood support opportunities in its first 16 months.

Some economic reforms are also worth mentioning.

President Ramaphosa ensured that we embarked on far-reaching economic reforms in energy, ports and rail, water, and telecommunications to make South Africa’s economy more competitive and to enable greater investment.

The most significant changes to South Africa’s electricity system in more than 100 years were initiated, unleashing new investment in energy generation — mainly renewables — which will increase supply and reduce costs.

Finalising the long-delayed migration to digital broadcasting and allocation of broadband spectrum will reduce data costs, make more broadband accessible to more people and enable technological change. I cannot wait for this to finally happen.

He is working with the private sector to increase investment and improve efficiency in ports and rails, which will lower the costs of exports and boost local industry.

Now, in addition to all of the above, everyone knows that in order to stimulate the economy, jobs must be created. One of the ways this can be accomplished is through infrastructure development projects throughout the country. In this regard, the president has announced:

Completed projects:

N1 Winburg Interchange in the Free State; N1 Polokwane Eastern Ring Rd Phase 2: Limpopo; N1 Ventersburg to Kroonstad: Free State; N2 Mtunzini Toll Plaza to Empangeni T-Junction: KwaZulu-Natal; and Small Harbours Development, Package A — Western Cape.

Projects in construction:

Small Harbours Development, Package A: Western Cape; N1 Musina Ring Road: Limpopo; N3 Cato Ridge to Dardanelles: KwaZulu-Natal; N3 Dardenelles to Lynnfield Park: KwaZulu-Natal; N3 Ashburton Interchange to Murray Road: KwaZulu-Natal; and N3 Paradise Valley to Mariannhill Toll Plaza: KwaZulu-Natal

Projects in procurement:

N3 Paradise Valley to Mariannhill Toll Plaza: KwaZulu-Natal; N2 Edwin Swales to south of EB Cloete Interchange: KwaZulu-Natal; N3 Mariannhill Toll Plaza to Key Ridge: KwaZulu-Natal; and N2 EB Cloete Interchange: KwaZulu-Natal.

Projects in preparation:

Small Harbours Development, Package B: KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape; Boegoebaai Port and Rail Infrastructure Project: Northern Cape; and the N3 new alignment via De Beers Pass: Free State.

So, when you say the tortoise is too slow, or that he has done very little in the way of advancing the fight against corruption, or better yet, when you say he has no backbone, he is completing this race way ahead of the hare.

We are a far cry from the not-so-heady days of feeling embarrassed about our country and the fact that one family with the aid of a few delinquents in government had managed to make us a spectacle. The Zumas and the Guptas, being the hare, might have thought they were winning this race, but because they undermined the tortoise and took one too many breaks during the race, they indeed fell asleep and thus lost to what they thought was a non-competitor.

How wrong they were and still are today.

The lesson of the story of the tortoise and the hare is that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly. I think that as the chattering classes we should support and throw our weight behind the tortoise and not seek out quick fixes, like the hare. DM

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All Comments 8

  • In other words that ANC is a criminal organization because though he did all that rot clearing …… the rot continued although in a more spider vein fashion.

  • And yet not a single high profile ANC politician is in jail and we still seem to uncover a new case of serious corruption at least once a week. Cadres that have been sentenced simply don’t need to go to jail because of their connections, or litigate with state costs for as long as necessary to avoid accountability. The list goes on. If CR is much slower there will be no country left to save by the time an actual change in behavior starts, which can only start if there is swift and effective accountability, including for the ANC cadres and buddies.
    Most achievements you list here should be part of a normal functioning society and are in no way special. Great to give us a list of completed projects, but meaningless without a list of delayed,corrupted or abandoned projects.
    Lovely to show us some money recovered, but no mention of the 1 to 2 Trillion lost over 20 years, God knows how much of that was stolen. So recovering a few million here and there is almost as meaningless as your list of completed tasks, especially since the really big fish are being ignored.

    At what point does it stop mattering, the race gets cancelled because the prize money was stolen by the tortoises buddies, and the racetrack degraded to a point it can no longer be used?

  • So if you are a cadre caught stealing our money, there is a small chance you may have to pay the profits back.

    But be assured you will be left alone to go try your next scheme to steal our money again.

    On the other hand if you’re NOT a cadre, and are caught stealing a loaf of bread – you’re lucky to get 2 years in jail, if you’re not shot in the back while running away by the crooked, corrupt, thieving SAPS.

  • Oscar, please do tell us what happens when the tortoise ambles along his chosen path and the further he goes he more he notices that the locusts have been there first and there is nothing left for him to eat. What can the tortoise do? He can only roll over and die and, in my view, that is where dear old Slow Cyril is now. Right now I cannot think of one achievement by him other than getting JZ out of the palace so that he could occupy it. Otherwise every single thing that he has touched has been an abject failure. Sometimes even the tortoise has to realise he’s in a race and, in this case, it’s the very survival of our country.

  • Thank you Oscar for reminding us of the good CR has done. The insistent criticism posted by my friends here and elsewhere in the DM is mostly justified and progress made in the last 4 years should also be acknowledged. Further more I’m very cautiously optimistic that there will be more positive change in the next 5 years.

  • It would be nice if all roads leading to Hoedspruit ,which is now the tourist hub of South Africa, could be repaired. Especially between Lydenburg, Ohrigstad and Hoedspruit.
    It would be great if more carriages and engines could be made available on the railway line from Phalaborwa to Maputo so as the reduce the 500 trucks leaving Palabora Mine every day and causing havoc on the R40 to Maputo. One truck every 10 minutes 24/7.. The R40 is being ruined by all the heavy trucks. Why is there not a levy charged per truck carrying coal, magnetite, ore, etc. so as to repair the damage done to the roads by these trucks. All transporting mining products which are helping the mines to rake in huge profits. If Government does not have the money for repairing or upgrading roads make the mines pay.
    The same with citrus transport. Not enough railway carriages or refrigerated carriages. No proper facilities at the Harbours. So thousands more trucks on the roads again. Who owns all these trucks? ANC officials? No wonder they do nothing to improve the state of Transnet.
    Nice if someone would look into all the corrupt water schemes/contracts in an around Hoedspruit. Pipes laid in a haphazard manner and never joined up!
    Nice if the KNP would be run properly once again. Our crown tourist jewel which is sadly deteriorating at a rapid pace due to poor management.
    Little maintenance done in the bungalows which in most camps are looking very tired. The Honorary Rangers keeping KNP going.

  • CR is slow, very slow. How slow is that? Well, mostly VERY SLOW is indistinguishable from STOP. And sometimes about the same as REVERSE.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted