Three weeks ago I wrote about the ANC and the mismanagement of South Africa. The overwhelming response I got – and it is the consensus even in South Africa – that corruption firmly took hold of the African National Congress (ANC) during the presidency of Jacob Zuma. Current president, Cyril Ramaphosa reached that same conclusion when he admitted to the Zondo Commission – a high level inquiry into allegations of corruption and state capture in South Africa – that corruption was indeed rampant in the ANC under his predecessor. “State capture took place under our watch as the governing party,” Mr Ramaphosa volunteered. Ramaphosa though blamed the degradation of the party on Zuma insisting the ruling party is now determined to stamp out the malaise.
However, empirical evidence shows that the ANC didn’t just lose the plot under Zuma. The roots of corruption in the party runs deep, traceable to the year 1994 under the leadership of the venerable Nelson Mendela when it accepted the principle of black empowerment and subsequently adopted and codified the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy in 2001. At its core, the policy sought to use the power of the newly captured state to direct intervention in the redistribution of assets and opportunities so as to deracialize the control of the economy or resolve the wide economic disparity created by apartheid policies that favoured only white business owners. BEE was concretely defined in the 2001 Commission Report as “an integrated and coherent socio-economic process…. aimed at redressing the imbalances of the past by seeking to substantially and equitably transfer and confer the ownership, management and control of South Africa’s financial and economic resources to the majority of its citizens. It seeks to ensure broader and meaningful participation in the economy by black people to achieve sustainable development and prosperity.”
This is understandable, since at its base, the ANC was a nationalist movement whose main goal was the capture of state power and pursuit of democracy.
The BEE essentially involves the transfer of state-owned enterprises (and these were huge, accounting for around 15% of GDP) on heavily discounted terms to blacks South Africans through privatization. There was however a snag: the emergent black middle class lacked the capital to acquire these enterprises even at the discounted prizes or expertise to run and manage them. But how do they care? The National Democratic Revolution – the ideology behind the entire struggle against apartheid – requires the ANC to use state power to derecialise the economy.
While the black economic empowerment was rammed through selling a few of the SOEs to blacks, majority of the beneficiaries were ANC apparatchiks. However, that hasn’t stopped them from seeing all government parastatals, in the words of Roger Southall, a sociology professor at the University of Witwatersrand, as “sites of transformation”, effectively opening them up to wanton corruption and a legitimate means of wealth accumulation by all cadre of the ANC membership. Revelations at the Zondo Commission hearing on state capture bears this out. “Many of South Africa’s SOEs have been left on the verge of financial collapse because of tender fraud linked to ANC members who were deployed to senior position”. Mr Ramaphosa agreed with this conclusion saying there was a “massive systems failure” in the Zuma era in the appointment to SOE boards. “Some of this may have been inadvertent, and some may have been purposeful”, Ramaphosa volunteered.
So thoroughly corrupt and greedy has the ANC rank and file become that they no longer cared to disguise their rapacious tendency in 2007 by electing Jacob Zuma, a highly corrupt and morally bankrupt individual and recalling the more urbane Thabo Mbeki.
Of course, Zuma’s tenure epitomizes the level of rot and decay in the ANC. Under him, the term “state capture” came to be added into the political lexicon of South Africa, to des scribe a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage.
The recall of Jacob Zuma as president by the ANC in 2018 did not signal a repudiation of his policies or the corruption bazaar he superintended. It was rather a strategic reaction to mollify a clearly disenchanted electorate. In the 2016 local government elections, seen as a referendum on the leadership of Jacob Zuma, the ANC suffered humiliating defeats in some of its strongholds such as Tshwane and Port Elizabeth – the home of Nelson Mandela and failed to secure an outright majority in Johannesburg, Mogale City and Ekurhuleni. Overall, it managed only 54 percent of the total votes cast, which sent alarm bells ringing in the party that its days may be numbered.
The subsequent election of Cyril Ramaphosa, a Mandela protégé, to run for the 2019 election on an anti-corruption and transformational ticket was part of a larger plot to reassure skeptical voters that the party is ready for change. That bet paid off as the ANC increased its vote margin to 57.5 percent of the total votes cast.
However, the rank and file of the party is still as corrupt as they come, largely still loyal to former president Jacob Zuma and are preventing any real reforms in governance. Look at South Africa’s deputy president, David Mabuza, for example. His corruption resume is as solid, if not worse than Zuma’s. He’s accused of building and running a network of political patronage by corruptly awarding contracts when he was premier of Mpumalanga, to strengthen his power base within the ANC. Besides accusations of monumental corruption, he’s also widely known for, and accused of assassinating political opponents. A staunch Zuma loyalist, Mr Mabuza smartly switched his support at the last minute to enable the emergence of Cyril Ramaphosa instead of Zuma’s preferred candidate to the presidency of the party, thus winning himself the deputy presidency of the party and the country in return.
To show that the decay in the ANC runs deep, the party’s secretary general, Ace Magashule, also another Zuma loyalist, is currently under suspension and facing corruption charges. These corrupt elements are the real power brokers within the party and they have prevented any real reforms, at each point threatening Ramaphosa with removal from office as leader of the party and country. It now appears these hacks only used his reputation to win elections and mollify the electorate but have absolutely no intention of reforming the party.