Since the shocking events of 9/12 last year, when President Jacob Zuma made the fatal error of removing – seemingly with the prior knowledge of his friends outside government – Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in a brazen attempt at ‘capturing’ the National Treasury, there has been something of a rediscovering of democracy across society.
Many have described last week as a critical turning point, when legal interventions, combined with popular protest, succeeded in ensuring not only the withdrawal of dubious fraud charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, but also the release of a bombshell report by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into ‘State capture’. While no findings are made, Madonsela showed her strategic guile in recommending a commission of inquiry, which should be led by a judge chosen, not by Zuma, but by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
However, last week was preceded by various other events and actions and signs of a democracy increasingly at work: the disastrous showing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the municipal elections; ongoing media exposés of corruption and capture; strong action by opposition parties inside Parliament, on the streets and at the courts to hold up a mirror to the poor performance of Zuma and his government; more and more vocal (and organised) opposition from within the ANC to Zuma’s leadership; muscular opposition from ANC ally the South African Communist Party to the use of State institutions for politically motivated prosecutions; the call by some Congress of South African Trade Union affiliates for Zuma’s resignation; and signs that support for Zuma is weakening among ANC Parliamentarians and branches.
However, arguably one of the strongest signals of this rediscovering of democracy is the greater assertiveness of organised business in voicing its discomfort with the state of play in South Africa.
In an action that is unprecedented since the advent of democracy in South Africa, organised business united with religious and civil society groups last week behind a campaign known as Save South Africa. While many will be disappointed that business refrained from joining the demand for the resignation of Zuma, it has, nevertheless, aligned itself with the call for a halt to State capture, as well as the use of institutions to mount politically motivated legal actions against those opposing corruption.
Business Unity South Africa president Jabu Mabuza, who was recently also appointed Business Leadership South Africa chairperson, acknowledges that business has been “missing in action” for the past 20-plus years in the belief that, under democracy, “the will of the people will prevail and business should stick to our knitting”. But he insists that business will no longer confine itself to business issues when the Constitution and the rule of law are at risk.
Others in business are even more forthright, including AngloGold Ashanti chairperson Sipho Pityana, who recently signed a letter to Zuma asking him to explain why he should not resign. “We have asked the President that we should have that discussion . . . and he should explain to us why he shouldn’t resign. Notwithstanding his statement that he prefers to be in meetings and his door is always open, it’s a month since we have written to him, and his door is firmly shut.”
Expect the pressure to continue and for more and more business-people to find their voice as they, too, rediscover the power of democracy.