Many people welcomed the removal of Jacob Zuma as State President and provided constructive support (and criticism) for the Cyril Ramaphosa-led administration, since he assumed leadership, last year. There is no doubt that some important gains have been made, notably in restoring legality, setting in motion key commissions, cleaning up State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), the South African Revenue Services (SARS) and investigating the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
A crucial question has been that of prosecutions. Ramaphosa has appointed new leadership for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), who enter their jobs under very difficult conditions. This is because until recently existing staff conducted their business, under the compromised conditions of the Zuma era. This is one of the reasons why we have seen failed, withdrawn and inadequately prepared prosecutions of key state capture cases, (though some of this results from the investigative limitations of the Hawks Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation and the South African Police Services, SAPS).
The appointments of Shamila Batohi as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and Hermione Cronje as head of the Investigative Directorate of the NDPP appears to have addressed a crucial leadership problem. In their public demeanour, the two have created a sense of confidence that they will do their jobs without fear or favour. But we, the public, need to understand that they are still dependent on others in the ranks of the prosecuting and policing authorities. Many of these have lost or never had the will to act professionally or, in the case of the police, to deploy the investigative capacity required to build a case.
The (retired Judge Robert) Nugent commission into SARS paved the way for the removal of Tom Moyane as its head and the regularisation of the tax authority. Under Moyane, the capacity to do the basic work, and especially to pursue large scale tax dodgers, was run down. It will take time to rebuild SARS but from the period of the acting Commissionership of Mark Kingon, which started with Moyane’s suspension last year, its capacity has started to recover and a new Commissioner, Edward Kieswetter has recently taken office.
The need for the cleaning up of the SOEs has been starkly exposed in the (Deputy Chief Justice Raymond) Zondo state capture commission, which has revealed previously unknown levels of illegal diversion of state resources. Many observers were focused on the fraudulent activities of the Gupta family, while the Zondo commission has revealed many more, generally locally based actors, who have allegedly benefitted illegally.
Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan has been at the forefront of the clean-up, which has earned him resentment from many who are threatened by what might be exposed. This has involved the EFF but also some apparent convergence with sections of the ANC, allied to former president Jacob Zuma. It is not always clear that Gordhan has adequate backing from his organisation.
Against the trend towards restoring the Rule of Law, there has been the removal of Robert McBride as head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), for reasons that are unclear. To secure this, an ANC portfolio committee majority in parliament, railroaded through Minister Bheki Cele’s determination that McBride should not be reappointed when his contract expired. It has not been revealed why Cele was so set on having McBride removed. Without openness, a sense of disquiet is created and a fear that there may be some things we do not know about in SAPS.
At the same time the Public Protector (PP), Busisiwe Mkhwebane, appears to be part of the push back against legality. She has been repeatedly publicly humiliated with judicial slap downs; this throws into question her knowledge of the law and whether or not she has acted in good faith in her investigations, findings and the orders she makes.
The recent findings against Pravin Gordhan concern a decision relating to the early retirement of former Acting Commissioner, Ivan Pillay, dating back to 2010. The issue was canvassed under former NPA head, Shaun Abrahams, who had to withdraw a proposed prosecution. Gordhan made representations demonstrating that he drew on 6 opinions, lawyers and experts on the public service and received unanimous endorsement, before agreeing to Pillay’s request. This appears to have been brushed off with unseemly haste by the PP and never received the attention it required. The PP went ahead to issue her report, with adverse findings against Gordhan, on the eve of the (expected) announcement of the new cabinet.
The PP, when she was first appointed, is reported to have immediately changed the TV channel in the offices from eNCA to then Gupta-owned TV ANN7. https://mg.co.za/article/2016-10-20-what-new-public-protector-mkhwebane-did-next and https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/1322250/change-channels-gupta-tv-new-public-protector-orders-staff/). This demonstration of partisanship has never been publicly denied by her.
Her interventions against Gordhan illustrate a similar bias as does her failure to adequately investigate the Estina dairy project in the Free State, as found by the High Court. She failed to address the roles of Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane, both of whom appear from other investigations to have been heavily implicated in the diversion of funds- intended for the dairy project- to the Guptas.
The ANC has thus far refused to allow a process for her removal to be set in motion, demonstrating that the organisation will allow people to remain in public office who may well constitute an obstacle to cleaning up state capture. It is not known what position the new parliament will take on this question, which has already been raised by the DA. (The new speaker, Ms Thandi Modise has today responded in a procedurally regular manner, so it may perhaps help set a different tone to any potential enquiry.)
In this context, the cabinet which has just been appointed by Ramaphosa, illustrates either the constraints that still operate to limit what he can do, or it demonstrates, again, that he has some serious blind spots. There may well be important power struggles that could have been unleashed against Ramaphosa had he not reappointed David Mabuza as Deputy President (DP) of the country -even if his presence as DP adds no value. In other words, ANC power politics has held the country to ransom and rendered the office of DP completely valueless and made it a case of wasteful public expenditure. Is this a price that we, the public, have to pay for Ramaphosa to remain president?
Turning to Basic Education, the entire reign of Angie Motsekga, as Minister of Basic Education, has been one of an indefensible abuse of resources, as seen in the textbooks scandal and the failure to provide safe schools that do not constitute a danger to the lives of teachers and children. We know only too well that all the resources that were available have not been deployed in order to prevent loss of lives of toddlers who have drowned in pit toilets. These are not the only unsafe aspects of the school situation. What is more worrisome is that the Ministry has continually opposed judicial remedies to ensure that provincial authorities implement the agreed norms for school infrastructure. Can it be right that someone with such callous disregard for those in schools and indeed their lives, is reappointed?
Attention has previously been focused on the remarks of Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, who has claimed -against available evidence- that the high presence of foreign migrants in state medical institutions is causing the spread of disease. (On the evidence, see: https://bhekisisa.org/article/2018-11-20-00-immigrant-blame-game-motsoaledi-remarks-immigrants-strain-on-health-system). Not only does the evidence not bear out this allegation, but it is the rhetoric of the Nazi and other fascists and the racists, redeployed onto the most vulnerable in order to divert attention from failure to do the work of government and administration. (https://www.polity.org.za/article/xenophobic-discourse-and-disease-2018-11-21/searchString:Raymond+Suttner+Xenophobic+discourse+and+disease). This type of language -the xenophobic discourse of which Ramaphosa is not entirely innocent- spits in the face of the heroic past of the ANC, one of whose greatest presidents, Chief Albert Luthuli was born in then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It repudiates the notions of universal freedom that inspired freedom fighters (some of whom remain in ANC parliamentary ranks) to risk and even give up their lives.
Not only is Motsoaledi retained in cabinet, despite this record. He has now been moved to Home Affairs, the nerve centre for the maltreatment of migrants, the place where papers are delayed and lost and where people are often treated with contempt. We know that the process of managing the plight of refugees has been dysfunctional and often corrupt for some time. We know that people are treated with disrespect for their dignity and often have their papers thrown on the ground for them to pick up on their knees. Is Motsoaledi the person to fix this up?
Lindiwe Sisulu was removed from the Ministry of International Relations after the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) voiced their displeasure with her taking steps towards breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel. Her action followed an ANC conference resolution, and it has been government policy, though the president has sought to cushion this in some of his statements. The SAJBD did its best to drive a wedge between Sisulu and Ramaphosa on this issue and Ramaphosa did not rise to her defence. No reason has been given for her removal. (See: https://www.polity.org.za/article/cyril-ramaphosas-choices-constraints-and-the-question-of-trust-2019-05-20/searchString:Raymond+Suttner).
There are others who add or will add nothing to government. The semi- collapsed tripartite alliance may have demanded some of these appointments or, in some cases, they may have been done in order to appease Zuma supporters. But why must the public bear the costs of these considerations, and the consequent failure to perform?
These questions around the appointment and the performance of individuals are not ideological. They do not concern anyone’s commitment to or interpretation of this or that set of ideas. The questions that are raised relate to the proper performance of work that is meant to serve the public and to the fact that when it does not, it is primarily the poor who suffer.
The other consideration relates to the callous disregard for the fate of school children and migrants. In this case, again, it is not a question of theoretical interpretation, but of words that we need to augment our political vocabulary. We need to be assessing whom we trust not only on the basis of their understanding of the Freedom Charter or National Democratic Revolution (NDR) or Marxism or any other doctrine. We need to be sure that they care about the vulnerable, that they have empathy for those who suffer indignity or poverty. That vocabulary needs to be recovered or introduced into our politics.
It is unlikely that the ANC will initiate such a process. In a world where far right and fascist leaders are being elected on every continent, the ANC is no longer equipped nor does it generally want to offer an emancipatory alternative. The organisation has moved more and more towards the centre and often acts with considerable inconsistency, sometimes supporting progressive causes, sometimes speaking or acting in ways that are similar to conservatives.
This is a time for those who still cherish the hope of a broad notion of freedom, where all have homes, healthcare, security and live in peace, to put those notions into organisational form. That need not be a political party or an electoral force. But there needs to be something that brings together a range of democratic voices, from a number of sectors, on a long-term basis. This is not to write off electoral politics, but, at the very least, to augment it in order to safeguard an emancipatory vision.
Raymond Suttner is a visiting professor in the Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, a senior research associate at the Centre for Change and emeritus professor at UNISA. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His writings cover contemporary politics, history, and social questions, especially issues relating to identities, gender and sexualities. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner