CityPress - - Voices and Ca­reers -

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

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