Betrayal and recovering trust?

9th October 2017 By: Raymond Suttner

Betrayal and recovering trust?

Raymond Suttner
Photo by: Chris Snelling

Hardly a day passes without new revelations of state capture, corruption and other forms of malgovernance. These emanate from the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, the work of investigative journalists on the #Guptaleaks, the analysis of SACC and academics, statements of some who have been in the inside of government like Pravin Gordhan, holding back attempts to hijack state resources, whistle-blowers and others.  What is becoming increasingly clear is that the extent  of corruption and malgovernance is far wider than we may ever have imagined.

Unsurprisingly, much  public focus is on this culture of irregularity and personal enrichment derived from state resources. 

But there is something else that needs to be identified that goes beyond governance questions. It is important that it be properly named so that we can understand the scope and meanings of what has happened in South Africa which is not reducible to (billions of) rands and cents.

This did not start with what reports revealed in recent times. To be clear: this article is not concerned with procedures and legislation that have not been followed, with the modalities deployed in order to capture the state. I speak about betrayal and treachery. These words are not used lightly. I am aware that they are loaded, but nevertheless necessary and appropriate to use in describing what has happened and continues.

This is not to suggest that everyone who backed Zuma or served under his presidency necessarily colluded with these acts. Some in senior positions, some lower down in the ANC or government acted with integrity and in good faith. Some who were invested in the ANC believed that it was best to fight corruption from within government or various structures of the ANC and acted with integrity as long as they could. Some continue to this day in various sites of government and within the ANC.  Much of what these people did and still do have restricted what has been pillaged from our national resources, setting some limits on what has been done or attempted.

It is safer to brush over some of these issues, for writing about them is delicate. When one moves into this terrain it may come across as moralising and sanctimonious. But the intention here is to grapple and understand the extent and nature of what has been done. Unless we do this the longing for ethical leadership will be idle. This is an uncomfortable subject for those of us who write about it and those who may feel they are being judged. But unless we open up these issues and dig deeper and name things for what they are we will not be able to draw lessons from this period.

The ANC and SACP betrayal goes deep into the psyche of many South Africans These organisations enjoyed the trust of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people at the time of unbanning of organisations in 1990. This was because they were seen as acting-without sparing themselves from prison, torture, or death- in order to secure the freedom of oppressed people in South Africa. 

In the case of many of these cadres their lives centred on serving the ANC and SACP.  That was what gave meaning to their lives –advancing the cause of the people from whom they came or whose cause they had adopted as their life’s calling. 

The bond between the ANC/SACP and to a large extent the more recently formed COSATU and South Africans who believed and trusted them went beyond solidarity. Their lives were merged and their dreams of a free South Africa intertwined. That is why they were relied on and many people could not conceive of such betrayal. The ANC and SACP had proved themselves time and time again, so that “being ANC” was more than a political affiliation but took on the notion of a semi-familial link. Many did not think it was necessary to join because they thought they were “already ANC” and even if not formal members did what they could to support the efforts of the liberation movement, led by the ANC.

Within these organisations tight relationships were formed between people who worked together, who faced dangers together, who were willing to die for one another and often put their lives at risk in order to save other comrades.

At the Bisho massacre in 1992 a security official threw his own body over that of then ANC Secretary General, Cyril Ramaphosa, to offer his own life rather than that his leader should die. The same could be said of those who were not guards but forged strong ties in MK or prison or in the underground or other spheres of ANC-led activity. Many were prepared to die not only for the cause they served but in order to defend some with whom they worked closely.

What is betrayal?

Betrayal occurs in a number of ways. It may be in relation to an organisation, a cause, between individuals with whom one stands in a relationship where there are expectations and a sense of reliance that these will be fulfilled. Betrayal may be through action or inaction or in politics particularly, through words that one utters that help to make betrayal possible, providing the “rationale” for the betrayal. This is where intellectuals play a crucial role.

There are those who directly harm through actions or failure to act, that allows some to benefit and those to whom one has pledged loyalty to suffer or to have to shoulder additional burdens.

Then there is the rationale that presents what is done as not being what it in fact is. Instead of being something wrong and contrary to that which is expected of leaders of a democratic movement it is presented as worthy and in line with what is in its best traditions. That intellectual rationale is a different quality of betrayal from the killings or diversion of funds. Articulating the rationale is vital in order to present the actions as comprising what is beneficial and concealing  what it actually means.

How did the ANC/SACP/COSATU betray the people of South Africa? How do those who are “reborn” opponents of Zuma reflect on their actions?

The first betrayal was in supporting and advancing Zuma’s candidacy for the presidency on false grounds, concealing what they knew were his qualities. The SACP and COSATU, particularly, presented Zuma as representing a popular if not socialist alternative to Thabo Mbeki, when they knew that he was not that, that he, like Mbeki had left the Communist Party in 1990. 

Contrary to what Matthews Phosa states in defending his support for Zuma’s candidature in Polokwane, there was already strong evidence suggesting Zuma was corrupt, from the Shaik trial, which demonstrated that he had received monies from Shaik on the expectation that he would use unlawful means to assist Shaik. ( ). 
“Evidence of what the state claimed was a “generally corrupt” relationship between Deputy President Jacob Zuma and Durban businessman Schabir Shaik was overwhelming, Judge Hillary Squires said in the Durban High Court on Wednesday.
“The case is convincing and really overwhelming,” Judge Squires told the court…
“In his summary, Judge Squires said payments made to Zuma by Shaik constituted a benefit under the definition of corruption.
“Even if regarded as loans [as claimed by the defence], the basis on which they were made would in our view constitute a benefit,” the judge said. (

By now the president may have spent many years in prison due to the charges he  faced in what seemed a solid case.  But there were those like another current ANC presidential candidate, Lindiwe Sisulu, who headed a committee devoted to preventing Zuma from facing the charges. It is not clear exactly what steps they took, but we know that the charges were suppressed. 

Even if this committee was not directly involved in illegally obtaining the “spy tapes” and then director of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe making his decision to drop the charges, they actively sought to ensure that Zuma should not face charges but be visited on us for the years that followed. This was not a minor role, no matter how it is painted, but part of the steps taken to ensure that Zuma took office, no matter what. ( 

The documentary basis for the prosecution case to stand was subsequently provided by Billy Downer SC and Wim Trengove SC, who were part of the prosecution team and believed that the case for a prosecution was beyond question. 

In the Nkandla scandal, there was on the one hand the various illegal actions that made it possible for the president to enrich himself through turning a rural homestead into a palatial mansion with many adjacent houses. These were paid for partly by diversion of funds intended for poverty relief. While the ANC generally presented an inept defence sometimes with racist overtones, as with SACP General Secretary, Blade Nzimande suggesting that only whites were concerned about the expenditure(, there were those like Naledi Pandor, John Jeffery and then SACP Deputy General Secretary, Jeremy Cronin who used their intellectual skills more effectively, in order to ensure that the vote for Nkandla spending had a semblance of justification and passed through parliament.

What none of those who have now broken ranks and now call for Zuma to resign, mention is their complicity in the attack on rape complainant, Fezekile Kuzwayo, allowing a form of defence that was not simply legally defending Zuma from the charges but  battered “Khwezi”, the complainant, into humiliation and exile. Not only would this be a punishment for Kuzwayo but a warning to all who may consider bringing charges against powerful individuals.

All members of the alliance were complicit in this, as their leaders danced with Zuma after every day of the trial singing the phallic and militaristic song “umshini wam”, meaning bring me my machine gun. No ANC, SACP or COSATU leader, man or woman, distanced themselves from these actions nor from the Zulu chauvinist and threatening actions by Zuma supporters outside the court room. Being leaders their silence obviously connotes  consent.

Why is there no mention of this, a trial that constituted a major setback for those struggling against patriarchal violence?  Must we assume that there is nothing to regret in their behaviour at the time? Having betrayed Fezekile Kuzwayo and ANC/SACP/COSATU principles on gender equality then, does their silence mean they stand by that betrayal now?

None of the people who have broken ranks, if that is what all of them have in fact done, have explained why they were complicit and continued to be in the betrayal of the poor, notably but not exclusively over Nkandla and other actions that preceded and followed that episode.

Jeremy Cronin – who was like a brother to me- and whom I trusted fully (See Inside Apartheid’s Prison, pages xviii-xxiii), says that the SACP never really endorsed Zuma as president, though their “body language” may have given that impression. ( Apart from evidence presented above, what do we make of the SACP speaking of the “Polokwane spring” ( or the “irruption of democracy” after Polokwane? (  What do we make of the General Secretary, Blade Nzimande, dogging Zuma’s heels as he moved from one court to the next over his various charges? What do we make of the Stalin-era birthday greetings to Zuma in Blade Nzimande’ statement in 2011? (

Worse still is the attempt to erase any agency Cronin or others may have had because of the power of monopoly capital since 1994, which ineluctably determined the trajectory of the country in the 23 years that have followed. What emerges from this type of statement is that the distinct quality of the Zuma era is erased. ( Consequently, there is no need to account for how Cronin or anyone else conducted themselves in the current period, for it was all enveloped within a process that was fundamentally beyond their control, overridden by the power earlier conceded to big capital. There was nothing that they did or failed to do that is blameworthy.  Consequently, they feel we should allow them to simply pick up where we all left off before the rise of Zuma since it was all part of the same phenomenon, starting in 1994. What is hidden are the actual qualities of this period in which they colluded –not simply continuation of macroeconomic policies that are open to contestation, but also extensive violence, corruption and hyper patriarchy.

To win back trust requires an honest acknowledgement of responsibility

In supporting Zuma over all these years of  criminal misconduct –not just Nkandla but “shoot to kill”, murders in KZN, not simply the recent intra-ANC ones but the violence and killings in Marikana, of shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo in KZN, Mbizana in the Eastern Cape and other areas, permitting the corrupt stealing of resources from communities in rural areas, and the failure to monitor the administration of social grants and many other acts of wrongdoing.

In acquiescence in these actions there was loss of integrity and in losing what some people once prized in themselves there was also a loss of dignity and personal self-respect.

That integrity and dignity and sense of self-respect will not be recovered unless people come clean. Only then, I imagine, will they regain the trust that has been lost.

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA.  He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities.  He was at one point in the leadership of the UDF, ANC and SACP.  His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison has recently been reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” by Jacana Media. Suttner blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner

Inside Apartheid’s Prison will be launched in Pietermaritzburg at 4.30 pm on Saturday 14 October 2017 as part of the Social Justice Film and Arts Festival, hosted by Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA) in the Colin Webb Hall, UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus.