it? How do such persons inside or outside mobilise for their undeclared objectives? When they fail within the board and against an upright minister, who do they turn to?
Is it to someone known to them, and who, on the basis of past experience, has proven amenable to using the levers of the state in pursuit of objectives that, beyond not being able to stand up to the rigorous requirements of the state, are seriously injurious to the very existence and purpose of the state?
Do they go to someone known to wield the ultimate weapon: the prerogative to not have to explain himself to anyone and who, when he has used his prerogative, has drawn predictable support from individuals and institutions that have benefited from the exercise of such prerogative, not once but by habitual practice?
In the tussle between morbid secrecy and constitutional transparency in contemporary South Africa, a secret syndicate can assess the South African state and note the weakening condition of its key institutions. The syndicate, brazen in its hand in the weakening of the state, knows how to circumvent it. One moment it is inside the state in the official capacity of its members; the next it is outside of it for personal benefit.
The syndicate shows a methodical approach to its secret task. It has targeted three critical clusters of state institutions.
The first is the cluster with the state’s instruments of control and enforcement: the police service, the defence force, crime intelligence, state intelligence and the SABC. The Marikana massacre should demonstrate what can be wrought when the state resorts to ultimate force.
The second is the cluster where the means of selfenrichment is located: public works, energy, transport, mineral resources and Treasury. These are the geese of corruption that lay the golden eggs of primitive accumulation.
The third cluster contains institutions at the heart of democracy: Parliament, the judiciary, the Independent Electoral Commission, the Public Protector and others. These institutions have the capacity to accord formal legitimacy to the syndicate.
Under way is the gradual displacement of formal lines of governance by dotted lines that meander around the geography of state institutions. If one moment the syndicate gets away with it here, the next they lose something over there because of a timely exposure or strong pushback. Despite the syndicate’s best efforts, South Africa presents a huge and complex environment that stretches the syndicate, and slows down its capacity to centralise and consolidate itself to be the effective driver of the state.
That is why the Rand Daily Mail headline “Nene fired: Zuma’s capture of the state is now complete” is not yet accurate. Pushback forces mean we are far from total destruction. How long the uncoordinated assault continues depends on the tolerance and sense of urgency of the South African population as an informed and self-conscious citizenry.
The exercise of presidential prerogative must stand up to the test of its own rigorous rationality. Leaders may be far from the public when they agonise with their closest advisers, but they should always be with the public in their solemn commitment to making the right decisions.
The purpose of “presidential prerogative” is not to enable the president to take just any decision. Pushed to justify himself, he must be able to show, even to himself, why he needed to exercise his prerogative. A leader of a country who seeks to exercise the prerogative to not explain himself to others is still not free from the supreme obligation to the quality of his leadership. To this end, he must ask: Did I succeed in convincing the robust parliament that debated in my own mind?
Without this, the gathering (and there must have been one) that met not to discuss in consultation, but to plan and execute the demise of a finance minister, simulates to all intents and purposes a conspiratorial syndicate carrying no formal mandate from any formal institution outside of its own secret informality.
On what basis did the ANC, a party in government, express its respect for the president’s decision and his prerogative to keep them and his Cabinet ignorant, unless they were organisationally a “technically ignorant” part of the secrecy? Could it be that the ANC has become so hollowed out it no longer exists as a serious formal institution, but has become part of a culture of secrecy of the kind that eats up organisations?
Ndebele is an author and academic, a fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, and an honorary research fellow at the Archive and Public Culture Research
Initiative at the University of Cape Town