Breaking Zuma’s Kleptocracy is up to all of us

IN 2011, Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s now ex-secretary general, warned that the ANC was being captured by a “powerful, corrupt, predatory elite”. Since then, ongoing revelations have suggested that the South African state under President Zuma morphed into a Kleptocracy.

Kleptocracy derives from the Greek words kleptes, meaning ‘thief’, and kratos, meaning ‘rule’. During his disastrous tenure, President Zuma used the common Kleptocratic tools of ‘organised disorganisation’ to create an unstable environment for his benefit. These included using frequent cabinet shuffles and transfers of officials so as to punish or reward loyalty, and ensuring that the patronage system remains intact while separating and disrupting opposing factions and potential rival challengers.

The impact of this divide-and-rule approach has been catastrophic for state efficiency and delivery. The 2017 GDP growth forecast is 0.7%, unemployment is at 27.7%, business confidence is at the lowest levels in decades, gross national debt has reached its highest level since 2008, and S&P and Fitch have downgraded our credit rating to ‘junk status’ (Moody’s has kept us at the lowest investment grade until a review after February’s Budget speech).

Last Monday, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC with 2 449 votes against 2 261 for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but while Ramaphosa is the new president of the ANC, the top six are equally split between the two opposing factions. Political analysts have previously predicted that Ramaphosa would recall Zuma if he is elected ANC president but after the election of the split top-six, many are now questioning whether this will still be possible. However, this view presupposes that Ramaphosa only has internal ANC structures at his disposal and underestimates how quickly Kleptocracies can wither.

Despite the election victory of Ramaphosa, there is little doubt that Zuma and his supporters will fight to the bitter end. This will likely involve temporarily using more of the rents from corrupt production (state capture in our case) to bribe pivotal groups and attempt to frustrate judicial and ANC challenges.

Nevertheless, as the more extreme examples of the DRC (Zaire) under Mobutu Sese Seko, Uganda under Idi Amin, and Liberia under Charles Taylor show, Kleptocracies tend to be short-sighted, are reliant on the availability of external money directed to and from the Kleptocratic ruler, and tend to survive only when there is limited inequality between private sector and corrupt public sector groups.[1]

As the machinations of Zuma’s Kleptocracy have been exposed, civil society and business leaders have increasingly eroded the Kleptocratic enabling environment. Thus, although Zuma’s system and agents are still in place, the sands are shifting; which means that the Kleptocratic loyalty and funding will dry up.

In addition, Ramaphosa has additional resources available to dismantle Zuma’s Kleptocratic system outside of the weak ANC structures. These include his ability to hire the head of the NPA to replace Shaun Abrahams, reinforcing the renewed anti-corruption stance of parliamentary committees, and appointing the state capture inquiry.

With Tom Moyane having inadvertently confirmed that the allegations in Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers are true, it may now be easier for Ramaphosa and David Mabuza to convince Zuma to step down rather than face impeachment or a motion of no confidence in addition to the pending reinstatement of criminal charges.

Thus, despite a conflicted ANC NEC, Ramaphosa can rally the power of his anti-state capture faction of the ANC behind his campaign promise of taking on the state capture architects and operatives with the hope of swaying more NEC members away from the Zuma faction. To do so, Ramaphosa will have to ensure that the battle against the state capture system is understood by non-captured ANC NEC members and voters to be a fight against a shadow state, not against the ANC itself.

Ramaphosa’s recent victory is only the start of the battle against state capture rather than a decisive blow or an ANC self-correction. To remove a Kleptocratic ruler from power requires the cooperation of many social groups beyond the political class.

As the ANC factional stalemate is likely to continue, it is up to South Africa’s private sector, trade unions, civil society, and media to keep up the pressure if the Ramaphosa faction is to succeed in breaking down Zuma’s Kleptocracy and underlying clientelist system.


[1] Acemoglu, D., Robinson, J.A. and Verdier, T. (2004). “KLEPTOCRACY AND DIVIDE-AND-RULE: A MODEL OF PERSONAL RULE.” Journal of the European Economic Association April–May 2004 2(2–3):162–192.

* Dr Sean Gossel is a senior lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business. Views expressed are his own.

* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Government tenders

Find public sector tender opportunities in South Africa here.

Government tenders
This portal provides access to information on all tenders made by all public sector organisations in all spheres of government.
Browse tenders