Dr Eugene Brink, Strategy Adviser for Community Affairs at AfriForum
Few evils are as significant and serious in current South Africa as corruption. The irregular abuse of state resources is decapitating service delivery, enriching the wrong people and harming the poor (and the country in general). Moreover, it destroys business trust and frightens away investors.
The unlawful grating of tenders, the overt bribing of officials and the use of state funds for private or sectarian interests has taken on endemic proportions. R.W. Johnson recently wrote on PoliticsWeb that many a state official and ANC party member have created successful business careers for themselves by channelling state expenditure to their businesses.
“All attempts to prevent such practices have failed and, indeed, they are endemic,” he says. “The point is, of course, that as public servants they are mere employees, supplicants for patronage, while if they can build business careers they can become self-employed – with an independent relationship to the forces of production. This would – such is the dream – turn them into patrons themselves, instead of just clients.”
Currently, “state capture” has become the great invective and it is used everywhere as interchangeable concept for corruption – or as replacement term. However, it is not that simple. Corruption is much bigger and worse than the so-called state capture of the Guptas or Jacob Zuma. It comprises the ANC and its bottle-washers’ long-lasting hold on institutions on all levels of state. Corruption, the result of, but not limited to state capture, not only comprises scoundrels who are temporarily in positions of power. It extends from ministers to premiers and low-level municipal officials and has existed long before Jacob Zuma’s time.
Apparent attempts have been made since Pres. Ramaphosa’s government take-over in early 2018 to root out especially high-level corruption and state capture. One such prominent example is the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture. There also exist a widely-accepted (albeit misplaced and naïve) assumption that Ramaphosa is untainted and will now be “cleaning house” because he is one of the mild and corruption-free people in the ANC and government.
The DA’s election strategy (in fact, their overall strategy) is largely aimed at exposing ANC corruption and trying to link Ramaphosa to it. There is nothing wrong with that and it should be done. However, the problem is that most of it is already general knowledge because the media has already reported on it. Corruption has become so endemic and commonplace that its exposure no longer has any impact. The covers of City Press and the Sunday Times continuously tell of corruption scandals.
The other problem is that the ANC, especially during the Zuma years, intensified corruption to such an extent that “minor” corruption has in fact been normalised. The DA’s attempts to “catch out” Ramaphosa on controversial company Bosasa’s R2 million donation to his son’s company will in no way derail the ANC’s election train.
Ramaphosa has been a dignitary in the ANC for many years, as well as Zuma’s Deputy President. His promises to root out corruption is dishonest and there is no proof that anything is being done actively in this regard. His cosmetic changes to personnel at certain institutions are directed more at changing headings than punishing past and present sinners.
The investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s new book on the ANC’s Secretary General, Ace Magashule, titled Gangster State – Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture was recently published. It is filled with sensational details and was thoroughly researched. Apparently, Magashule and others did not want to comment on any of Myburgh’s allegations, but there were threats of a court application recently when books were delivered to shops.
The publication of the book comes at an interesting yet not unsurprising time – just before an election. I hope, however, that Myburgh and other hopefuls don’t think that this book, or any other revelations, will now suddenly swing the election results. Because it won’t.
Magashule’s sins should not come as a surprise to anyone. They are notorious. But instead of the ANC and large proportions of the public condemning him, the ANC castigated Myburgh and branded his book a conspiracy. A political analyst said in reaction to the book that Magashule was an “anomaly” – a deviation from the rule – in terms of Ramaphosa’s fight against corruption. This is untrue: Magashule is a symptom of the nature of the ANC and hardly an exception. Ramaphosa’s fight against corruption is exclusively rhetorical (up to now, at least), and this raises valid questions of whether a sincere fight is being waged. There are many corrupt people in his cabinet, and the ANC’s election list is interspersed with them.
According to the survey, all previous exposures of corruption did little to change voting patterns – despite the middle classes’ anger at corruption. The ANC will obtain somewhere between 54% and 60% support in the coming election. The just-as-corrupt EFF may even grow their support from 2014 and 2016 levels.
Voters in South Africa unfortunately do not vote for untainted governments or individuals, but in terms of identity and interest. Because of South Africa’s major poverty and high unemployment figures, the vast majority of citizens pay very little tax – if at all. They will never read Myburgh’s book or see any other reports on corruption. They vote ANC because of issues like grants and other state support, and not because of corruption. Therefore, there is no impetus to hold the authorities responsible for the misappropriation of other people’s money.
The true front-page news will be created when people, especially the powerful, are brought to book. The challenge is that the state and party (read: the ANC) are so entwined that the state doesn’t want to act against the party and its officials (or other powerful people). You can see this from the actions of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Public Protector (PP). The courts still rule effectively and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) does an occasional good job, but they are still careful to act against people in powerful positions.
The locus of responsibility therefore shifted to a large extent to the media and civil society. This is where AfriForum and especially its private prosecution unit are of the utmost importance. By privately prosecuting people in powerful positions, a capacity is created to hold dignitaries responsible and keep the pressure on the NPA to do its job.
It is part of the long-term road that must be taken to fight corruption. To put our hope on different outcomes in elections – especially the 2019 election – to fight corruption is unfortunately unrealistic.