Defend Truth


Phala Phala is not a crisis for South Africa; it is a crisis for Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC


Ivor Chipkin is the Executive Director of the New South Institute think tank, based in Johannesburg.

Parliament has finally acted to hold the executive accountable. We wish it had exercised its autonomy as a constitutional body earlier, at the time of the arms-deal fiasco, for example, and during Mbeki’s deathly Aids denialism and during the prebendal rule of Jacob Zuma.

Crisis, crisis everywhere. We have become so accustomed to being in crisis that we cannot see when a crisis is not one. Phala Phala is not a crisis for South Africa. It is a crisis for the Cyril Ramaphosa Presidency, for the person of Cyril Ramaphosa and for the ANC as a political party. It is not a crisis for South Africans.

Over the last weeks and months something has shifted symbolically and concretely in South African politics. In fact, three symbolic transformations are taking place.

First, the ANC is not the nation.

The conflation of the ANC or any other party with the people of South Africa is coming to an end. More and more South Africans, especially former ANC voters, are letting the organisation know loudly that the party does not have a natural right to their vote, that it is not somehow their spontaneous voice.

Second, the party is not the state.

More and more South Africans are recognising that no political party has a right to rule. They have a right to contest elections and if they win them, then to occupy offices whose powers and functions are defined in law and in regulation. In other words, they may exercise political power in and through constitutional structures. The Zondo commission helped expose what happens when a ruling party and some of its politicians and officials feel unconstrained by institutional frameworks. They destroy institutions, apart from looting and stealing.

Third, in a democracy, institutions matter more than individuals.

This is an idea with a troubled history in South Africa. Voters, political commentators, journalists, politicians and markets tend to be preoccupied with personalities. The sense of crisis in many quarters arises from the belief that Cyril Ramaphosa, although deeply flawed, is a decent man, committed to constitutionalism and the rule of law. This is almost certainly true.

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With his ouster, the doomsayers anticipate an era of chaos and corruption. This is definitely a possibility. However, many looked to Zuma to save us from Mbeki and to Ramaphosa to save us from Zuma. Now there is panic because there is no messianic figure to save us from the current mess – only “a pack of hyenas”. But such a view distracts us from the fact that something important has just happened to provoke the current “crisis”.

Parliament initiated an investigation into a sitting president on the basis of information in the public domain. This is precisely what Parliament has never done before, in violation of its constitutional duties, as the Zondo Commission found in relation to State Capture.

The report by the Section 89 Panel said that there was a prima facie case for impeaching Ramaphosa. Finally, Parliament acted to hold the executive accountable. This is one of its core constitutional roles. We wish it had exercised its autonomy as a constitutional body earlier, at the time of the arms-deal fiasco, for example, and during Mbeki’s deathly Aids denialism and during the prebendal rule of Jacob Zuma.

Phala Phala updates

What we know so far

What happens Next?

Next Steps if president resigns

Economic Impact

How markets are reacting

It is also ironic that South Africa’s most constitutionally minded president will be felled by a Parliament that is, at last, constitutionally compliant.

The event that provoked the current situation, therefore, comes from an unambiguously positive development for South Africa as a democracy and as a constitutional state. Sure, there are some fantastic risks. They come, however, from those who would stall the democratisation of South Africa’s democracy.

It is a time to appreciate the enormous achievements of South African society over the last decade: we have interrupted a “silent coup” that 1) displaced power from elected bodies, and into shadowy, increasingly criminal networks; that 2) weakened and corrupted key state institutions; and 3) drove the economy further into crisis.

Now there are signs that we are recovering, not because a prophet is showing us the way but because our key institutions are starting to work.

Whoever comes to power now will confront a Parliament beginning to work as it should, a hardened judiciary that has largely retained its independence, a cynical and tough-minded media and many courageous and well organised advocacy organisations.

Halala South Africa, halala. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • L Dennis says:

    Love your article totally agree with you.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    A rather sobering take on the issue of an imploding ANC.

  • Karen G says:

    Pity the exchange rate doesn’t follow the same sentiment.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    This is proper characterisation of Phala Phala that some journalists and legal plumbers seek to turn it into a South African crisis. It is a Ramaphosa personal crisis and an ANC crisis because it has implications for him. The author has correctly captured the issue. We have a lots crises, electricity crisis, junk status and the rand has been falling under his watch and all of a sudden it is because of the panel. What a load of rubbish from the media.
    The author puts emphasis on the institutions of the country and its people not individuals who are made messiahs. It is breath of fresh air from a newspaper that is being turned into a newsletter for Ramaphosa by some of its journalist and analysts. It was the same argument one was making to comrades that there is no crisis if our institutions work as they should and follow their prescripts. One expressed the same confidence the author places on institutions but raised
    a question about a speaker who ought to be neutral, who attend ANC meetings and yet journalists of Daily Maverick like Ferial Haffajee see nothing wrong with
    this gross misconduct on her part. It is this objective view that Ivor is respected within the financial services sector for his clear and objective analysis in which he separates himself from the issue to be dealt with. Once more we thank him for his clarity of mind. ANN7 pushes tribalism going to Chiawelo to ask Venda people to comment covered as his branch.

  • Ben Neveling says:

    High time someone points out that the ANC is NOT the owners of South Africa. Well done Ivor !

  • virginia crawford says:

    The questions about why parliament did not act against Mbeki’s HIV/ AIDS denialism that killed thousands; the arms deal that began the looting: Zuma and State Capture, do need to be faced, although answers are unlikely. Easy to draw conclusions though.

  • James Cunningham says:

    While I must agree that parliament is at last starting to do its job there is something about Phala Phala that just doesn’t sit right. Maybe it’s because the whole thing has been engineered by that dirty tricks expert Arthur Fraser who clearly has dirty hands. But there has been nothing definitive on the amount involved, the mysterious Sudanese businessman who never collected his Buffaloes and the paerwork…….
    Heres hoping that the first time Parliament exerts its power over the executive isnt to stich up Ramaphosa.

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