The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC President in December evoked much euphoria or cautious optimism, in the ANC, business and media. But beyond that there was a hope cherished by many that this represented a definite step towards ending the blight of Zumaism on the South African landscape, experienced in different ways by different strata and classes.
Although Cyril Ramaphosa was elected by ANC National Conference delegates, many outside that conference hoped he would defeat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma because he represented a potential beginning of the defeat of the various strands of Jacob Zuma’s rule, affecting not only the ANC but the state itself.
A range of state institutions no longer function as independent entities but have fallen under the aegis of the Gupta family. The family had “captured” incumbents and were able to dictate outcomes that ought to have been decided by state processes and in the interests of the state, acting on behalf of the people of South Africa.
This pattern of power, we now know, led to the diverting of funds from state departments on an illegal basis to benefit the Gupta family. They were provided-illegally- with information about decision making processes enabling them to influence appointments and procurement, amongst other issues, in a manner that benefitted them and their hangers on.
One of the most notorious results of this Zuma/Gupta “silent coup” was through the involvement of the Minister of Mines, Mosebenzi Zwane and the newly elected ANC Secretary General, Ace Magashule, then as Free State Premier, in a purported dairy project in Vrede in the Free State. State funds provided by the Free State government for that project were diverted to the Guptas and used, partly to fund the notorious Gupta wedding in Sun City in North-West Province. The Guptas are reported to have benefitted to the tune of R 220 million.
This process, known as “state capture” has seen the erosion of capacity of State Owned Entities (SOE)s intended to fund development and transform people’s lives. Their resources have been diverted in countless ways in order to rob the people of South Africa of a better life in order to fund an even better life (than they already enjoy) for the Guptas and the significant number of collaborators they have recruited to serve their objectives. One of the most significant of these is President Zuma’s son, Duduzane who, despite no obvious business skills, is reputed to have become a billionaire, owning property in Dubai. One of the results of this pillage is that a key state entity like ESKOM is practically on its knees and facing bankruptcy, which critical situation is shared, in varying degrees, by some other SOEs, with a state fiscus unable to bail them out in a time of crippling debt hanging over all financial decisions.
The past weeks have seen dramatic developments, albeit without the removal of Zuma. First, we saw Zuma instituting a commission of inquiry into state capture, in a manner that conforms to the former Public Protector’s directive, that it be done with the choice of head of the commission determined by the Chief Justice, something that Zuma had previously contested and lost in the courts.
In the week that followed, with Ramaphosa continually speaking of the need to stamp out corruption and prosecute those responsible for state capture, the Asset Forfeiture Unit, the NPA and the Hawks have acted to freeze assets alleged to be proceeds of criminal activities of companies allied to the Guptas. There have also been statements to the effect that arrests of high profile individuals are imminent.
The suspended Crime intelligence head General Richard Mdluli, on paid suspension for over 6 years was finally removed from office and faces charges. Replacements are being sought for him and the head of the Hawks, following the earlier removal of General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, leading to the possibility of more professional gathering and acting on crime intelligence.
There is little doubt that the imminent removal of Zuma and assumption of the state presidency by Ramaphosa is activating law enforcement agencies to act on cases on which they have sat and shown little results for very long. It is noteworthy, that reports indicate that Shaun Abrahams, head of the NPA, remained reluctant to act, but that his hand was forced by legal steps taken by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), preparing their own case to execute the preservation of these assets if the Assets Forfeiture Unit did not act. (https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2018-01-20-why-shaun-blinked-after-court-threat-on-gupta-action/ ).
In this situation despite Zuma being in office and his removal not yet resolved, there have been signs that some officials treat Ramaphosa as a de facto president, with appeals to Ramaphosa to act on various matters, as if he not Zuma were the State President.
There is a lot of emphasis on qualities attributed to Ramaphosa relating to his role in negotiations over 20 years ago, sometimes romanticising the need to play for the long game and not to humiliate an opponent, something being stressed by Ramaphosa in relation to the removal of Zuma. This ought to alert us to a characteristic of the negotiation terrain: with negotiations the art of reaching a settlement, the “give and take” entailed, can sometimes be fetishised and overshadow the character and objectives of the settlement. Reaching a “deal” may come to be seen as an end in itself. Ramaphosa’s personality is supposedly central to all of these questions that require resolution. But for democrats, coming to a decision, resolving an impasse, is not the fundamental issue. What is decided, whether or not it embraces crucial qualities that enhance our democratic life, is the central question. The settlement needs to restore democratic institutions and legal processes and remove corrupt practices that mar the functioning of state and other economic institutions. All of this ought to comprise steps towards tackling unemployment, inequality, endemic violence and poverty.
We need to remember that we valued negotiations in the past and democrats will value them now if the outcome is an emancipatory one, that respects the rule of law and due process, one that opens the way to regularising governance and recovers what has been stolen, one that signifies a step towards gender equality and ending violence against women and children.
It is said that Zuma must be removed with dignity, not humiliated. Under the heading “Cyril’s quiet diplomacy”, the Sunday Times quotes Ramaphosa saying: “There is a lot of noise around us. We have said the last thing we want to do is humiliate President Zuma.” What does this mean? Few people derive pleasure from seeing any human being humiliated and it is correct to avoid if that is possible. But what does it mean in the context of Zuma and the charges he faces? From what we know there is a strong chance that if legal processes are allowed to take their course Zuma will move from being a president to be an accused, not only for the 783 counts from 2009 but probably also for state capture charges. There is also a strong chance that he will be found guilty and jailed.
Does Ramaphosa accept that Zuma’s fate is not in his hands? That is a matter for the courts and there can be no intervention-in such processes- to preserve his dignity. Pardoning is a completely unacceptable message to send- given the basis on which many people are supporting Ramaphosa. There must be full disclosure and return of all that has been stolen. Like everyone else who commits a crime, if it is found that Zuma has stolen from the fiscus, he must pay a price in the same way as all criminals do.
Zuma period not simply diversion of funds
This focus on negation of state functioning in relation to financial resources, should not signify that that is all there is to the Zuma period of malgovernance and abuse. There are a range of other features that need to be addressed and have not always received adequate attention in programmes for his removal. One thinks, inter alia, of the general lawlessness that pervades South Africa, with the police services being overwhelmed and dysfunctional in consequence of erosion of professionalism and capacity generally, partly through implication in corruption and killings, often in intra-ANC conflict.
There has also been a particular way of relating to social relations in general that deserves rigorous attention, in assessing what is needed if there is to be a fresh start. One of the features of the Zuma period comprises elevation of the “traditional” in an uncritical manner, thus denying notions of customs and cultures as dynamic evolving practices. The “homage” paid to the traditional (to use a phrase in a recent statement of ANC leadership after the election of Ramaphosa) often feeds into anti-democratic leadership practices that undermine citizen’s democratic rights and is often linked with diverting resources belonging to communities to Traditional Leaders and unscrupulous companies. These issues require closer scrutiny, respected but not simply embraced in an unqualified manner.
The inadequate analysis of what we require socially also leads to an underplaying of the significance of patriarchy, emblematic of Zuma’s presidency, that is often linked with traditionalism but also other features of South African life, including macho masculinities. The public needs assurance that this will be integral to any programme for recovery.
How was CR 2017 electorally successful and what does it mean?
Technically it is correct to say that Ramaphosa is the ANC president, elected by ANC delegates. But his victory was more than that and it was enabled by more than the ANC conference and what he does from now on may be conditioned by more than the wishes of ANC delegates or structures of the organisation.
Ramaphosa was elected in the wake of mass protests drawing in people from all walks of life some of whom had never protested in their lives. They may not have been ANC delegates, but they were part of the atmosphere that convinced the ANC that they could not have more of the same, that the organisation was being discredited and would lose power in 2019.
Ramaphosa’s election represented a rupture or could become a rupture. The reasons for listening to this clamour may have been ethical but it may simply have been self-preservation, reading the signs from the 2016 local government elections and what it signified for the future. It may be that despite ANC leadership election results that were ambiguous in their support for Ramaphosa, that he has been able to act boldly because he senses that he has this backing to “clean up” beyond whatever configuration of forces there may be in the ANC.
Those who were in the streets or raised their voices in other ways, through professional organisations and as actors from other spheres of civic life, ought not to rest. The leaders of the Ramaphosa-led ANC need to know that the body of citizens whose rights have been abused or trampled on are now vigilant and ready to participate more fully in the future. The ANC leaders need to appreciate that what they decide will resonate, way beyond their meetings.
Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a professor attached to UNISA and Rhodes University. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His most recent book Inside Apartheid’s prison was reissued in 2017. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner