JUDITH FEBRUARY: The ANC in government is a walking contradiction

OPINION

There never seems to be a week in South Africa which does not hold some serious political consequence.

Whilst in the midst of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to increase the momentum of our vaccination drive, the ANC has held its lekgotla, Carl Niehaus (the Radical Economic Transformer-in-Chief) has been fired by the ANC (the party is now literally financially bankrupt, to add to its ethical bankruptcy), and Jacob Zuma has been granted medical parole. Anyone who didn’t see that coming has not been paying attention.

After much legal wrangling, the local government election date has been set for 1 November 2021. This was not without controversy after the Constitutional Court was asked to rule on whether elections were to take place this year.

There were no written reasons given the urgency of the matter, however, the ConCourt will be providing those in due course. This has created some confusion as to whether the order allowed for the reopening of candidate registration. The IEC has now reopened candidate registration, and this is now the subject of a legal challenge by the Democratic Alliance.

The IEC maintains that it is within its rights to reopen candidate registration given that the ConCourt said it could “publish such amendments to the current timetable as may be reasonably necessary”. The ConCourt will yet again be seized with the matter given the DA’s urgent application.

Our ConCourt has served us well and has been a bulwark between our society and a complete collapse of the rule of law.

The Presidency released a statement this week which set out the process for the appointment of the new Chief Justice. It includes public participation and an eminent persons panel which will shortlist candidates. Ultimately, however the President decides which candidates he will refer to the Judicial Service Commission. It is important that Ramaphosa gets this one big decision right. One suspects that the public participation process, together with the eminent persons panel, is Ramaphosa’s way of shielding himself against the internal wrangling which will doubtless arise on this appointment within his own party.

Whoever is appointed will need to provide the requisite leadership both intellectual and administrative, to our apex court. It is fair comment that the court is in need of such leadership.

Adding to the pressure on our constitutional framework and the rule of law, Jacob Zuma is now on medical parole, a cynical act by the National Commissioner of Correctional Services, Arthur Fraser, whose contract ends soon. Fraser was moved to Correctional Services, presumably because it was a ‘softer’ position than his previous one in state security?

He is anything but a dispassionate player in this saga. He is the former Director-General of the State Security Agency and the Zondo Commission has heard that Fraser was involved in marshalling a private intelligence army on Zuma’s behalf. It was also Fraser who was alleged to have given the so-called ‘spy tapes’ to Zuma which contained details of how his arms deal corruption prosecution by the National Prosecuting Authority may have been politically tainted.

The irony, of course, is that the previous commissioner, Tom Moyane went on to head SARS with disastrous consequences. This is what happens when presidents and political parties play musical chairs with positions of import. It eventually comes back to bite.

The most obvious question would be what were Fraser’s reasons for rescinding the order of the Medical Parole Advisory Board who had earlier denied Zuma parole and declared that he was in a stable condition? Fraser has been quite brazenly prepared to defend his decision to over-rule the Parole Board and has granted media interviews stating that there were no legal or procedural flaws in his decision.

This decision will be taken on review - and rightly so because the public has the right to know and understand whether the decision to release Zuma on medical parole was legally rational or not?

Yet, one wonders how much more strain our legal system can endure, being consistently placed in the arena where our democratic institutions fail us and where those who are in positions of power often act with impunity

If one were being equally cynical and uncharitable, one would say that it appears that Fraser was part of the stitch-up to ensure that Zuma does not serve his prison sentence.

For his part, President Ramaphosa welcomed Zuma’s medical parole and wished him well. That seemed just a little obsequious when South Africans may be justified in thinking that if one ensures enough violence and mayhem, eventually one’s political friends will find a way out of the sticky legal situation.

Given that Zuma’s former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was released on medical parole and was seen on the golf course not long thereafter, it is also unsurprising that South Africans are sceptical of Zuma’s sudden and possibly ‘terminal illness’. We know that Zuma believes he is above the law. He has repeatedly cocked a snook at the courts as well as the Zondo Commission and has shown little appetite for accounting to anyone despite his repeated claim that he longs for his day in court.

In its judgment on Zuma’s contempt, Justice Khampepe wrote then, “If we do not intervene immediately to send a clear message to the public that this conduct stands to be rebuked in the strongest terms, there is a real and imminent risk that a mockery will be made of this court and the judicial process in the eyes of the public. The vigour with which Mr Zuma is peddling his disdain for this court and the judicial process carries the further risk that he will inspire or incite others to similarly defy this court, the judicial process and the rule of law.”

How right she was. A Sunday newspaper has reported that Ramaphosa was consulted before Fraser made the decision. We need to know if that was the case and if so, the President needs to be held to account for his involvement. Has Ramaphosa himself now buckled under pressure to have his predecessor released? That would be the ultimate travesty in a country well-used to travesties of justice.

Stories are doing the rounds that Zuma’s supporters are preparing to give him a rousing welcome when he returns to Nkandla. If Zuma is then seen doing his usual song and dance routine and complaining about the conspiracy against him, will we still be asked to believe that he is a candidate for medical parole? A case of, “Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes??

During his speech at the recent ANC lekgotla, President Ramaphosa mentioned many things, including expanding the social security net. Our socio-economic reality is dire, with the most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey making for dismal reading, with 7.8 million people unemployed in our country, 584,000 more than in the first quarter of this year. A statistic that should scream, ‘Crisis!’ to any government. Yet, Ramaphosa and the ANC seem so consumed with internal crises and internal party unity that it constantly feels as if we are a country walking in treacle.

Of the violence of July, Ramaphosa said, “Those that are responsible for the organising, coordinating and inciting this violence must still be brought to book. Our priority is to ensure that we do not allow such criminal behaviour to recur”, and on comprehensive social security, “Further work needs to be done towards the achievement of Comprehensive Social Security to ensure that all South Africans can live in comfort and dignity. This necessarily requires better alignment and linkages between social security policies and labour market policies so that beneficiaries of social support can move more readily into employment. Subject to long-term affordability, serious consideration should be given to extending further support to the unemployed, and those who are structurally marginalised”.

We are mostly inured to such promises. As recent Afrobarometer data indicated, trust in democratic institutions is at an all-time low. We are also inured to the President’s promises because, quite simply, we cannot believe that he will do as he says, or that he will commandeer those around him to do as instructed. As for those who planned the insurrection, they walk freely amongst us, unfettered by the law. This is a country where words like ‘full might of the law’ are unfortunately meaningless.

This past week Public Works and Infrastructure Minister, Patricia De Lille, talked again about ‘smart cities’. Only the most sanguine amongst us would believe that a party incapable of paying its staff or registering candidates for local government elections could be a vehicle for the radical social change this country needs, let alone a ‘smart city’. We need desperately to get the little things right and then dream big. For the governing ANC that means regaining people’s trust on the little things.

Impunity is a strategy which has a limited lifespan. As we see Ace Magashule on the periphery, fighting legal battles, Niehaus dismissed and other ‘RET’ forces being dealt mini blows, these have been some consequences of Ramaphosa’s clean-up. But we need to survey the damage that has been caused along the way and whether out of this ANC wreckage, something new can be rebirthed?

It’s hard to imagine that a party cannabalising itself can be rebirthed. It certainly will not be able to hold itself together for much longer. This local government election will be instructive. We are not far away from increased coalition government. That will bring with it a new set of challenges. Surely too, the time for the almighty split within the governing party has come? Then, we might ask as Yeats did,

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

The ANC in government is a walking contradiction and inflicts its wounds on an already wounded society.

Judith February is a lawyer, governance specialist and Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy'. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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