Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Who really governs South Africa?

2016-12-09 08:11
Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Picture: Felix Dlangamandla)

Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Picture: Felix Dlangamandla)

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The question sounds strange for two reasons. Firstly, the African National Congress is a majority party in Parliament. From the political party point of view, the governing party is in charge. It was elected by the majority of South Africans in 2014.

Secondly, the governing party, using its electoral majority, chose President Jacob Zuma to govern the country. Zuma has appointed a team of cabinet ministers who, individually and collectively, oversee the implementation of the ANC’s manifesto across state departments and agencies. They are supposed to do so in accordance with the laws of the land.

If the current political dynamics accurately reflected the above two factors, the question, “who runs South Africa?”, would not only sound strange, but it would be illogical. In fact, it would not arise. But it arises forcefully because current political developments suggest that political power in South Africa is not what it is on paper. 

No issues illustrate the uncertain political power than the SABC scandal and the unravelling intricate web of state capture activities. Let’s start with the SABC. A few years ago, employees at the SABC lodged a complaint with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela against Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the controversial chief operating officer who assumed the role of chief executive whenever he felt like it. Madonsela found that Motsoeneng’s appointment was irregular and recommended a list of remedial actions. The SABC deliberately ignored them.

Efforts to enforce the remedial action resulted in the SABC and Motsoeneng being dragged to court by the opposition Democratic Alliance, backed by civil society groups. While the legal battles were unfolding the ANC, through its discussion documents prepared for its national general council, lamented the terrible leadership at the SABC and demanded change. 

Well, change did come as many dissenting voices including journalists were flushed out of the SABC. But Motsoeneng, the source of ethical lapses, legal breaches and corporate governance malfeasance became stronger and stronger by the day. 

Until the ANC could no longer tolerate it. So, when the Supreme Court of Appeal endorsed Madonsela’s report on the SABC, confirming that Motsoeneng’s appointment as chief operating officer was irregular, the ANC demanded action against him. Instead, the SABC appointed him group head of corporate affairs, another position of power and influence. 

“The appointment is no doubt the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” said angry ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu, who leads the majority of MPs in Parliament and takes instructions from Luthuli House, the party’s headquarters. 

From the Union Buildings, the seat of governance power, Minister Jeff Radebe who is responsible for giving Zuma’s cabinet a semblance of unity, firmly stated: “Cabinet calls on the SABC board to abide by the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling.”

He further stated: “Attempts to subvert the SCA ruling through legally suspect interpretations border on violating the constitutional principle of legality and challenge the constitutionally assigned judicial authority of our courts.”

So, there we had it: the ANC in all the key centres of power it occupies, in the legislature and executive, was united in calling for the SABC to deal with Hlaudi. It was September when the statements were made. But Motsoeneng is still at the helm at the SABC. He is staging walkouts in Parliament and his supporters are even campaigning for him to be minister in future. The question comes forcefully: who governs South Africa? Is the ANC in charge?

The state capture revelations, the worst post-1994 corruption scandal, also raise similar questions. After Madonsela released the State of Capture report that exposed Zuma’s generally corrupt relationship with the Guptas, the ANC reacted by issuing a statement that blandly supported Madonsela and raised doubts about Zuma’s leadership capabilities.

“The ANC's seminal document‚ Through the Eye of the Needle‚ is instructive that as a movement for fundamental change‚ the organisation requires leaders who would lead the task of governance with diligence and who are equal to the challenge of each phase of struggle,” the party said.
The report contains reasons why Madonsela preferred a judicial inquiry to expose the rotten head of the fish. Zuma, the report says, was informed that the office of the Public Protector didn’t have resources to conduct an investigation of that magnitude and that it requires an investigation in the format of a commission of inquiry. 

When Zuma was told about this, it didn’t occur to him that as the head of the executive he is constitutionally bound to support the Public Protector. He should have asked the minister of finance to speedily make resources available. 

As a key suspect in the probe, it was not in his interest to help Madonsela secure resources. It would have been tantamount to asking a turkey or goat to sponsor a Christmas lunch.  Such is the extent to which Zuma is conflicted.

A commission of inquiry established by him would no doubt be as well-resourced as the Arms Deal and Marikana Commissions were. The difference though is that as a ring leader in the state capture, he would be denied the possibility of manipulating the terms of reference. It’s now an established fact that Zuma cannot control or manipulate to suit him as a victim of everything under the sky; his only options are to stall or stop it entirely.

Madonsela’s reasons are thoroughly rational. It made sense for the governing party to be reminded of its values after reading the State of Capture report. The report reveals nothing but an overthrow of the will of the electorate, supplanted by private interests working in cahoots with the president for their own interests. Their activities have nothing to do with implementing the manifesto of the ANC. In the whole State of Capture report, there is no reference to anything that would benefit the Republic. Contrary to Zuma’s oath of office, there is everything in the report that will harm the Republic. 

Yet, Zuma is taking the report on review, clearly acting against the strong anti-corruption statement issued by his own party that is clearly getting impatient with him. He is heading to a disastrous loss in the courts. 

As Zuma fights for his personal interests that have nothing to do with his public duties, who actually governs South Africa for South Africans?

* Follow Mpumelelo Mkhabela on Twitter.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  hlaudi motsoeneng  |  sabc  |  state capture report

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