JUDITH FEBRUARY: Sona clearly displays the ramifications of the ANC's rot
It’s been a rather depressing week.
Boris Johnson, a man quite obviously unfit to be Prime Minister is on the doorstep of Number 10, a toddler found clinging to his father as they both drown in the Rio Grande trying to make their way to a better life in the United States, and then Zimbabwe almost by stealth reintroduces the Zim dollar, to name but three instances which show that the world truly feels like a spinning top every day.
Here in South Africa we have our own daily dose of political mayhem yet the most depressing story must have been that government needed a loan to pay Denel staff. Those are the direct consequences of state capture. So, Jacob Zuma should be held to account for that (and all others who looted unashamedly), and appear before the Zondo Commission without whinging about being persecuted. What was allowed to persist has been criminal.
It’s been a week since the State of the Nation Address, and that has left further time to dissect the speech and also take a step back and see where we find ourselves. It is, as it always has been, despite the talk of a "new dawn" and "Thuma mina!" a grim point in post-apartheid history. The economy is in crisis with near daily retrenchment announcements, public trust in institutions is low and a general cynicism prevails.
Daily headlines of doom and gloom do not help us either.
A Sunday newspaper led with the headline relating to the Public Protector investigating President Cyril Ramaphosa for money laundering. This is apparently in respect of a campaign donation when Ramaphosa was running for ANC president in 2017. She has widened the scope of her investigation of the original R500,000 Bosasa donation, which the DA laid a complaint about. She appears, yet again to be acting beyond the scope of her powers if she is investigating money laundering.
It all seems like a bit of a hot mess and the lead story detailed the ambit of the Public Protector’s investigation without of course knowing what response Ramaphosa is yet to give. So it all had the feel of a cliffhanger but no doubt the Public Protector would have been pleased with the publicity. After all, she seems to relish inserting herself into political matters. The story also said that Ramaphosa could face impeachment if found guilty of money laundering.
**WATCH: **With all the back and forth about Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s investigation into Cyril Ramaphosa’s donation from Bosasa, EWN’s Clement Manyathela clears the confusion.
There are two ways one can remove a President in terms of the Constitution. In terms of s89 (1), the President can be removed for the following reasons by a resolution supported by two-thirds majority of the National Assembly:
a) a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;
b) serious misconduct; and
c) inability to perform the functions of office.
In terms of S102 (2), a president can be removed if there is a motion of no confidence in the president voted upon by a majority of the National Assembly. This means the president and his entire cabinet of ministers and deputy ministers must resign.
Sometimes the tug to reality and the constitution serves our public discourse better than loosely throwing words like "impeachment" around.
As it is, we are currently in a daily breathless mode about which faction is "winning"- Ace or Cyril. This, again, is all rather unhelpful and speculative. The fact is – and it remains the case – that Ramaphosa won a narrow victory at Nasrec. That is no secret. He is constrained by a party that is deeply corrupt, and its Secretary-General, Ace Magashule, is doubtless trying to undermine the reformist agenda. That has consequences.
We should therefore take a step back and try to understand then that whatever happens – Sona, the Budget – regarding state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will be complex. There is no silver bullet to the state we are in. It will also depend on which fights Ramaphosa will take on, and which ones he will pragmatically leave. So, is it worth going to fisticuffs about Faith Muthambi chairing the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs portfolio committee? Probably not, if one was in Ramaphosa’s shoes.
Of course it’s deeply unsatisfactory. But politics is always about the pragmatic and the possible – ask anyone in power.
Ramaphosa’s Sona was a little flat and had far too many focus areas wrapped in goals. By next year, they will all have been forgotten. In addition, so much time has been spent discussing bullet trains and smart cities that will not materialise. Let us not, however, get hung up on this, and perhaps our energies are better focussed on what can change or shift.
That Denel was unable to pay employees is chilling. It is relying on a lender to pay staff this month. Who is this lender and on what terms is he/ she/ it lending us money? What happens next? This is a fundamental breach of trust between citizen-employees and the state. Ramaphosa has all this on his plate, as well as Eskom and myriad other issues, which have no easy solutions.
It is all rather depressing. But can we be surprised? There is daily outrage about the dirty scandal we hear from the Zondo commission and other commissions of inquiry. Again, that’s the deal. Once the Inquiry starts, the dirt becomes public. We are able to hear and know what happened and then look to the president, his cabinet and democratic institutions to stop the looting. Despite the continued flow of bad news, the crude state capture project has not been able to gain momentum.
That does not mean corruption has ended of course. What it does mean is that we are in a messy, mistake-riddled phase of rebuilding and accountability. These efforts will not be a straight line and there will be losses as well as gains. Thus far, we are waiting for prosecutions and for institutions such as the South African Revenue Service to slowly but surely start exercising their mandates with integrity.
The cleanup at SOEs will require bold choices. This week in Parliament, minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan said that Eskom would be unbundled and that progress towards a split was "going well". The president did not mention this again last week. It will, however, mean tough choices and job losses. That will be tricky to navigate given the dire state of the economy. Yet, it is the only way forward. SAA is in an equally dismal state and we really need to ask whether we need a national carrier. On the SABC and others, the less said, the better.
The state capture project was a decade-long. It will take equally long, if not longer, to fix.
That is the grim reality as we count the cost and repercussions of the rot within the ANC.
This is the narrative in which we find ourselves. All that will be different will be the day of the week and the particular actors in the daily drama.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy' which is available. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february