Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)
Ramaphosa emerges from hibernation
IT WOULD be churlish to deny that President Cyril Ramaphosa has just had one of his better weeks in office. He not only survived an ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting that some had predicted might trigger his recall, but he managed to force powerful politicians facing criminal charges to withdraw from leadership positions while the allegations are investigated.
He is also once more the man upon whom great hopes are pinned that the rampant criminality that exists within the ranks of the party and government – for in nepotistic South Africa they are one and the same – will be punished and eradicated. Both these achievements are less impressive than they are painted to be.
Given Ramaphosa’s unrivalled popularity and the powers of reward or exclusion that any president has over his colleagues, he has always been more powerful than he has behaved. The presidential paralysis of the past almost three years has had as much to do with his cautious and non- confrontational character than any true lack of power.
He acts now out of political necessity. The outrage over the billions stolen from emergency pandemic relief funds has placed the ANC in a quandary. If it ignores the public clamour for action, it faces the possibility of a thrashing in next year’s local government elections.
In Ramaphosa’s letter to ANC members last week, in which he conceded that the party was in the corruption dock as Accused Number One, he made a number of substantive suggestions on how to address the rot.
The first was that any cadre implicated in corruption would have to report themselves to the ANC’s integrity commission. Those unable to bluff their way past this ambitiously titled but historically ineffectual body would have to step down or be summarily suspended. A handful of the most blatant offenders have now done so. This is being hailed as a political turning point in the battle against corruption.
It is the norm in any democracy worth emulating that substantive allegations – not charges – of wrongdoing will trigger the person’s withdrawal from office until the matter is resolved. That’s a standard of behaviour that the ANC dare not contemplate. On the 87-member national executive alone, it would demand the recusal of easily half of its members.
Ramaphosa proposes are lifestyle audits, declarations of financial interests, and a policy on ANC leaders and family members doing business with government. These have been promised before or are supposedly in force.
What strikes one, reading the publicly released Covid-19 tenders, is how blatant the malfeasance was. This was not about padding a price here, skimming a few bucks there. Such brazen behaviour stems not from stupidity but confidence. These fraudsters are not new to state looting, they have been doing it for dozens of years with impunity. They are virtually unscathed after 26 years of the auditor-general identifying each year in his annual report gross levels of state corruption and then bemoaning it. They have survived official inquiries, forensic audits, and criminal investigations.
If Ramaphosa is serious about corruption, his government will implement the mechanisms in existence but that it has largely ignored.
The solution, says the SACP in a statement this week, is ending the tender system itself: “All outsourced services must be reviewed, to implement in-sourcing and decent work.” In other words, enlarge the bloated public service. Of course, most of the new employees will be incompetent and lazy, hired largely on the dual criteria of skin colour and party affiliation. Which means critical functions and services will have to be tendered out.