Source: Financial Mail
Don’t be fooled: this isn’t so much a party grappling with a crisis of conscience as it is a party aware that the looting has become too brazen — which could have nasty consequences at the ballot box
03 SEPTEMBER 2020 –
The bold outcome of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, suggests the governing party is well aware that it’s been placed on notice by a corruption-fatigued electorate.
On paper, the party’s promises look good: those facing corruption cases must step aside from their government posts, while those with convictions should step aside and face disciplinary action.
But don’t be fooled: this isn’t so much a party grappling with a crisis of conscience as it is a party aware that the looting has become too brazen — which could have nasty consequences at the ballot box.
The ANC’s electoral support has declined rapidly since 2009 and last year its national support slipped below 60% for the first time since 1994. Having seen what happened in the Western Cape, if there is one thing the ANC understands, it is that once it is out of power, it will be nearly impossible to claw its way back.
In 2019, the ANC held onto the economic heartland of Gauteng by a narrow 50%; in KwaZulu-Natal its support slipped to 54%; and even in the Northern Cape, a former stronghold where it has a loyal base, its share of the vote dipped to 58%, below 60% for the first time.Finally, Cyril’s in chargeThe battle is by no means over, but it is becoming clear that the Zuma-Magashule hurdle is no longer an insurmountable oneBusinessLIVE / Natasha Marrian
It was only the fact that Ramaphosa was at the helm that kept it from a far more precipitous fall. Nonetheless, the message from the electorate last year was clear: shape up or ship out.
That message would be enough to bring about deep change in many a political organisation invested in the raison d’être for its existence: retaining power. (And let’s not pretend the ANC is in politics for more altruistic reasons.)
But since that election, blindingly stupid own goals, economic decline and a pandemic have worsened the ANC’s prospects. Not for nothing is the hashtag #VoetsekANC now a regular feature on any given day on social media.
But instead of implementing meaningful change, the party has been paralysed by factional feuding since last year’s poll. The group informally led by secretary-general Ace Magashule continues to have the audacity to assert itself, with no shame for its role in the plunder of state resources during the administration of president Jacob Zuma.
There’s good reason for the ANC to be worried. Ramaphosa was given the benefit of the doubt based on his promises of reform.
But the fact that some saw Covid-19, the worst public health emergency in a century, as an opportunity to loot, will have been the last straw for many. As the government killed off small businesses and removed citizens’ freedoms, the looting was an unforgivable sin.Three scenarios for SA, all dismalRamaphosa’s appeasement policy means he is more likely to retain Bathabile Dlamini in his cabinet and fire Tito MboweniBusinessLIVE / Justice Malala
The Zuma administration left the electorate disillusioned; the Covid corruption has left it disgusted.
If the party had any plan for economic recovery, this would at least mitigate that revulsion. But it hasn’t — and this could be the final nail in its coffin. If so, SA may be on the brink of an era of national government by loose, messy coalitions.
Later this week, ANC leaders will meet to discuss next year’s local government elections — a discussion deferred after the corruption issue took up most of their time over the weekend.
The NEC also deferred discussions on economic recovery to a special lekgotla, which will include bureaucrats from the state.
Expect the ANC to emerge full of resolutions on how it will change. But the country is getting wise to this: history has shown that the party is lavish with rhetoric and meagre with action.
How Cyril outplayed the hyenas at the NEC
The ANC’s weekend NEC meeting would seem to have forged a greater unity in the ruling party — and a firm commitment to tackle corruption. But intention means little without action
Talk is cheap, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. They’re clichés, to be sure, but the ANC will have to take them to heart if it is to implement its grand plans to counter corruption in the party. And with SA set to go to the polls in local government elections next year, time is running out.
The ruling party scaled up its attempts to rehabilitate its image this week, with ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa taking charge of communicating the party’s position on corruption.
The setting was less than dramatic: Ramaphosa, flanked by the rest of the party’s top six officials, addressed the media on Zoom on Monday. This followed a three-day meeting of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) — its highest decision making body between national conferences.
The talk was tough, but Ramaphosa was able to take some crucial wins out of the meeting, including the NEC’s endorsement of his letter to the ANC’s million-odd members in which he referred to the party as “accused No 1” in the dock for corruption.
In what can be seen as further support for his drive to clean up the party, the NEC decided all members facing charges of corruption or other serious crimes should, with immediate effect, step aside from their positions in the party and in government.
By Monday, that decision was already rippling through the party: ANC MP and bribery-accused Bongani Bongo had stepped aside both from the NEC and parliament, where he chairs a portfolio committee; and Andile Lungisa — thrower of glass jugs and ally of former president Jacob Zuma — was told to resign from the Nelson Mandela Bay council and the party’s regional task team. This followed on the heels of corruption-accused former eThekwini mayor and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Zandile Gumede and provincial ANC deputy chair Mike Mabuyakhulu being instructed to step aside.
What “stepping aside” means for members of the various legislatures is anyone’s guess. At this stage, it’s not clear if they’re simply being put on paid leave pending the resolution of charges against them.
All the noise is necessary but it doesn’t change things
But what’s critical for Ramaphosa is the way in which the NEC — and the top six in particular — rallied around him. It’s significant, given the opposition he’d encountered after sending his letter to the party — including from Lungisa and Zuma, who is himself facing corruption charges related to the multibillion-rand arms deal.
“The NEC emphasised that what seems to be a choreographed campaign against the president will not distract the movement from undertaking an intensified programme against corruption and state capture,” Ramaphosa read from the NEC statement — a job usually reserved for secretary-general Ace Magashule.
While the NEC statement didn’t single anyone out, party chair Gwede Mantashe had no qualms in referring directly to Zuma and Lungisa.
Ramaphosa simply dismissed Zuma’s letter, saying it was one of many he received as ANC president, and that he had not responded to it.
It was a thorough slap-down for the new coalition of the wounded — Zuma’s remaining supporters. But it also gave the sense of a party backing its president. Where the top leadership once seemed heavily divided, Monday showed a more united front, with corruption as enemy number one.
The subtext was of unity in action — but not unity at all costs.
But fairy tales also make for good stories, and the ANC has previously made bold undertakings to address the scourge of corruption, as Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali makes clear.
While any statement about fighting corruption should be welcomed, Ntshalintshali tells the FM, this is not the first time the ANC has talked tough on the matter. For example, the party has previously resolved to conduct lifestyle audits, he explains, yet nothing has come of that.
And, he says, the decision has been taken before that those party members facing charges should step down. But implementation has been scarce — and, where members are actually removed, they’re often easily reinstated.Finally, Cyril’s in chargeThe battle is by no means over, but it is becoming clear that the Zuma-Magashule hurdle is no longer an insurmountable oneBusinessLIVE / Natasha Marrian
Then there’s the promise to give teeth to the ANC’s integrity commission, a body of party elders tasked with ensuring the integrity of party members.
Ntshalintshali says it’s been mooted for years that the commission’s findings should be binding, but they remain recommendations, which means the NEC may ignore them.
“All the noise is necessary,” he says, “but it doesn’t change things.”
The integrity commission is key to the ANC’s attempts to turn the tide on corruption, given the NEC decision that party members who are reported to be involved in corruption and other serious criminal practices must explain themselves to the commission. Those who fail to provide an acceptable explanation for their actions may be suspended.
Both Ramaphosa and Magashule are now set to appear before the commission: Ramaphosa to answer questions about his 2017 campaign for the ANC presidency, and Magashule to explain comments he made on TV that he would not step down because of allegations against him.
Ramaphosa himself said on Monday that he would prefer the integrity commission’s findings to be binding. This, however, will be part of a discussion between the NEC and the commission about strengthening its role to restore the values of the ANC, and to ensure it has the means to carry out its mandate.
Ntshalintshali says it concerns him that the commission only makes recommendations. If, for example, the majority of the NEC is told to step down, it could simply block the recommendation.
It’s an important point, as political analyst Ebrahim Fakir points out that ANC members are in the habit of using the rules of one body to get out of adhering to the rules of another.
“You basically riddle things in process and procedure,” Fakir says.
Asked whether South Africans should take the message coming out of the meeting seriously, Fakir offers a blunt “no”.Three scenarios for SA, all dismalRamaphosa’s appeasement policy means he is more likely to retain Bathabile Dlamini in his cabinet and fire Tito MboweniBusinessLIVE / Justice Malala
Given how ingrained corruption has become in the party — and by extension in SA society — he believes nothing will change.
For real change, the party has to completely rehabilitate its morals. And it’s important that it takes action not only against high-profile politicians, or only against the rank and file, but against foot soldiers and generals alike.
While the likes of Bongo, Gumede and Lungisa have all been told to step aside, they carry little political weight. But bigger players may be in the firing line too.
In an interview with the Sunday Times last week, Hermione Cronje, head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigating directorate, was asked when the first high-profile individual will be charged. “In September,” she said. “That’s the time frame we’re working with.”
Given that the wheels of law enforcement are finally turning — and in light of the role of politicians and politically connected players in SA’s corruption scandals — it’s likely that “accused No 1” may soon be a high-profile party member. That will be the true test of the ANC’s resolve around its newfound moral compass.
Political analyst and Unisa professor Somadoda Fikeni says it’s clear that the ANC is beginning to respond to public outrage and anger over corruption scandals — especially those related to Covid-19. This anger has given ammunition to those previously isolated voices calling for strong action on corruption: if the party doesn’t do something, it will likely lose elections.
Fikeni says whether the ANC is able to hold its course and ensure senior party members step aside if they are accused of corruption will depend on how bold the president and his supporters are.
If the party leadership doesn’t hold the line, it will prove correct those South Africans who believe the ANC is simply paying lip service to clean governance in the hope that it doesn’t face a devastating election outcome.