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President Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)
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The state capture inquiry that's finally underway this week poses some dangers to the governing ANC, yet it also acts as a safety valve which can be harnessed to the benefit of the party in the forthcoming 2019 election.
Clearly, there is political risk in potentially exposing further malfeasance on the part of the ANC under former president Jacob Zuma.
Assuming a long conveyor-belt of accusations involving a degree of naming and shaming those already implicated – and those still at large – the inquiry may be a festering wound for President Cyril Ramaphosa's election hopes.
Coming just nine months before the expected 2019 poll, the electorate are likely to be constantly reminded of the deterioration in governance over the last decade. The daily narrative is likely to include documented revelations about the extent of the "deep state" under the influence of the Guptas and their associated agents from parastatal apparatchiks to senior ANC leaders.
No doubt, to have such a stark reminder of the failure of the state is not something any political party would like as it unfolds its own election campaign within a very heated and competitive electoral environment. It should be manna from heaven for opposition parties who will be able to claim virtually on a daily basis the legitimation of their own concerns for so long.
Indeed, rarely would an election campaign with a beleaguered incumbent run simultaneously to what is potentially the most damaging dissection of that incumbent's most recent performance. In theory therefore, it should add a layer of stress to the ANC's already precarious defence of its majority.
But, in true South African style, a negative for the ruling party can also be spun as a positive. The coming introspection under the watchful eye of Judge Raymond Zondo is equally an opportunity for Ramaphosa to campaign on the basis of renewal and transparency. While the inquiry can act as a constant reminder of the deep rot that has infected the ANC, its very existence also is a constant reminder that the rot is being exposed and potentially dealt with.
The inquiry therefore can offset the opposition critique that the ANC is broadly corrupt. By pointing to such a transparent and credible process (at least at the outset), the ANC can respond by pointing to the unfolding process and a willingness to deal with the wrongs of the past.
Next year's election will occur well before any final report is completed. The ANC is relatively fortunate that the electorate will not be able to demand fast justice should additional exposés hit current ANC leaders. As this is now an unfolding process, any legal charges are only likely to be brought to bear after the 2019 poll, affording the ANC an election campaign relatively free of demands for further retribution.
The Zondo inquiry therefore is a useful political tool for the next year as South Africa braces for a tough and combative election. At once it answers the opposition's call for accountability but will also not be able to be judged on its eventual outcomes for perhaps years to come.
For the ANC – under the circumstances – this offers a useful public forum to address the chief critique of the Gupta-Gate years without having to account for the real eventual outcomes thereof. This therefore affords the ANC a get-out-of-jail card at least on this issue with judgement deferred for many years. The inquiry will do just about enough in the public eye to show something is being done – without anything really being done (legally) over the same period.
As the election nears, the opposition will have to hone their methodology to use the inquiry to their best advantage. It can yet be an opportunity to embarrass the ANC should evidence come to light on senior sitting ANC officials – and that's where the real political interest will be. Failing that, in a strange way, the ANC can still derive benefit from an inquiry into the worst aspects of its own self.
- Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.
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