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South Africa: Patience is the name of the game

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South Africa: Patience is the name of the game

The legal procedures to bring those accused of state-capture and other acts of high-level corruption grind on. President Cyril Ramaphosa has so far refused to be bum-rushed into intervening in the process but will his nerve hold as the pressure to do something mounts? Report by Rafiq Raji.

In mid-February, Bantu Holomisa, president of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) party, exclaimed “we now know the cost of state captured – billions of rands have been stolen and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been weakened”.

Holomisa made these remarks at UDM’s manifesto launch in Port Elizabeth against the backdrop of renewed load shedding by the country’s state power utility monopoly, Eskom, which the UDM president attributed to state capture. “Eskom is no longer able to perform service as it should”. He was only stating the obvious.

During his second State of the Nation Address a week earlier, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the matter quite succinctly. “The revelations emerging from the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture and other commissions are deeply disturbing, for they reveal a breadth and depth of criminal wrongdoing that challenges the very foundation of our democratic state”.

More importantly, he said: “where there is a basis to prosecute, prosecutions must follow swiftly and stolen public funds must be recovered urgently.”

Incidentally, Holomisa’s speech a week later, happened at exactly the same time the ruling African National Congress (ANC) president was addressing party faithfuls at their own manifesto rollout in Limpopo. “President Ramaphosa may be a decent man, but he is just one man”, Holomisa remarked.

“There is nothing to stop the ANC from deciding to remove him just as they recalled Thabo Mbeki and replaced him with a person facing over eight hundred criminal charges”, the UDM president added.

Holomisa was also speaking from personal experience: the ANC expelled him in 1996, after he testified before the Desmond Tutu-led Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Incidentally, Ramaphosa had, only just days before, been defending himself against accusations by Congress of the People (COPE) president Mosiuoa Lekota – a former member of the ANC and former Minister of Defence – that he had betrayed his freedom struggle comrades to the Apartheid regime when he was a student leader. Ultra-leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has called for a judicial commission of inquiry into the accusations by Lekota.

And about a month earlier, EFF leader Julius Malema also asked Ramaphosa to clear the air on the actual relationship between his son Andile and the company, Bosasa (registered as African Global Operations), a facilities management firm implicated in state capture that was recently liquidated by its sponsors after banks refused to do business with it.

In this context, how far will Ramaphosa go to fight corruption within the ruling ANC and the state? How far can he really go? New African posed these questions to top political analysts.  

Treacherous politics

“Ramaphosa has already started to tackle corruption by replacing the boards of corrupted firms and hiring credible prosecutors”, says Adeline Van Houtte, Africa analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London. “Cracking down on corruption and prosecuting offenders remain key elements of Ramaphosa’s agenda”, she adds.

“But whether Ramaphosa succeeds depends on the election outcome on May 8th. But even if the ANC wins, he will face ferocious opposition to the clean-up from within his party. He will therefore need to tread carefully as it would be easy for rivals to remove him from the party leadership”.

“Ramaphosa is constrained in different ways in terms of combatting corruption at the state level and within the ANC itself”, says Oxford-based Jason Robinson, a senior Africa analyst at Oxford Analytica.

Langelihle Malimela, Johannesburg-based senior economics and country risk analyst at IHS Markit, provides additional context. “It is all likely to drag though, for some time. In other words, it will be some time before many prominent people are actually put on trial.”

“What Ramaphosa has done is to place emphasis on building institutions and following due process. It has served him well in the sense that, when he has gone after someone, such as his firing of the SARS [South African Revenue Service] commissioner, he has prevailed in the ensuing legal storm.”

“On the downside, it makes him appear indecisive and slow. But he is trying to ring-fence these institutions and put them on solid footing in case he is removed in future by the party.”

In a nutshell, while Ramaphosa’s position as ANC president may not be secure, he has deftly ensured that his anti-corruption effort would be able to take on a life of its own with or without him on the saddle.

“South Africa is a constitutional democracy in which the head of government does not decide who gets prosecuted for corruption or any other crime. Not even Jacob Zuma could decide that, much to his regret”, says Steven Friedman, a research professor and renowned political scientist at the University of Johannesburg.

“Ramaphosa did not even appoint the head of the prosecution service alone – he was careful to ensure that she was chosen by a committee consisting mainly of professional lawyers so that he could not be accused of influencing the process”, adds Friedman.

“Who is prosecuted will, therefore, be determined by the National Director of Public Prosecutions [Advocate Shamila Batohi], an independent person recently appointed with the support of the entire legal profession”, the UJ professor avers further.

Special investigative unit

Already, the South African President has announced a new special investigative unit to prosecute the state capture allegations: “We have agreed with the new National Director of Public Prosecutions that there is an urgent need to establish in the office of the NDPP an investigating directorate dealing with serious corruption and associated offences, in accordance with section 7 of the NPA Act.”

So, he is certainly heading in the right direction. The key question is whether he would be able to stay the course as the casualties of his anti-corruption war start to get closer to home.

Oxford Analytica’s Robinson has cogent views on the question. “While his administration has faced public criticism for not hastening anti-corruption investigations, especially the slow pace of prosecutions or some notable withdrawn cases (e.g., Estina Dairy Farm, Ajay Gupta arrest warrant), the fact is that if Ramaphosa tries to interfere in ongoing investigations, he risks going down the path of politicising South Africa’s anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies as his predecessor did – which is what allowed the process of state capture to emerge in the first place.”

IHS Markit’s Malimela also has some views on this. “Given the evidence that has come out of the state capture Inquiry, it is hard to see Ramaphosa trying to protect anyone.

“Remember that South African courts are very independent, and while Ramaphosa has a slim majority in the ANC, the ANC has been losing power overall in any case, and thus in a parliament where they enjoy an ever slimmer majority, it is very difficult from here on, to protect anyone against whom the NDPP finds solid evidence (which won’t be hard).”

Malimela  adds that the new NDPP is very highly qualified, competent and respected, and has left the ICC [International Criminal Court] where she worked for nine years to return to the NPA where she began her career. Much is expected of her.

“My point is that, it may not be all up to him, and how far he will go. And that was his intention. He has played it very well in the sense that he is giving law enforcement institutions the space and resources to do their work: and they are starting to. But it will be a marathon, not a sprint.”

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