South African politics in the year 2020

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Gallo Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Gallo Images


There was much cause for optimism as 2020 kicked off, with the governing party hitting all the right notes regarding a sudden change of heart and renewed willingness to decisively confront the issue of corruption, which has long been a stumbling block to providing service delivery to citizens.


In both his January 8 statement and his state of the nation address (Sona) in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa reiterated the need for a “new climate of renewal” that would see the former liberation party decisively acting on allegations of corruption hanging over most senior party members’ heads.

“We’ll renew the ANC as the most effective force for social change,” vowed Ramaphosa during his lengthy January 8 address, adding that he would again reposition “the ANC as the most effective force for social change”.

This pledge to combat crime and corruption in the party’s ranks was reiterated in February during his Sona, when he declared: “We won’t let up in the fight against corruption and state capture. We need to work together to root out corruption and strengthen the rule of law.”

While the red berets’ support base was arguably growing faster than that of the DA, there was concern about how the party would sustain this support base, particularly under lockdown

Not long after making these bold statements, he was forced to swallow his words, with the ANC again exposed for committing the most atrocious self-serving acts during the nationwide lockdown.


On March 23, just over a month after his pledge to tackle crime and corruption, Ramaphosa’s administration was forced to announce a nationwide lockdown, which was initially predicted to last for 21 days – from March 27 to April 16 – to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Food parcel theft and corruption. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/ City Press

Given the subsequent extension of the lockdown period, government in April announced a R500 billion relief package – R130 billion of that amount was sourced by reprioritising National Treasury’s budget, with the rest sourced from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the World Bank, the New Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

This was done partly to enable government to put in place relief measures, such as providing food parcels for the most afflicted by the sudden economic disruption. However, complaints soon began streaming in regarding the sale of these food parcels at excessive prices by ANC councillors.

Some ANC deployees were accused of “playing dirty and using the same food parcels for buying votes”, as they only dispensed them in their strongholds or, in certain instances, to their relatives.

Bandile Masuku. Picture: Gallo Images

While the ANC tried to put out this fire through yet another elaborate plan of action – which, yet again, seemed to lack follow-through – the party was hit by a second embarrassing scandal. This time, it was closer to home as it involved Ramaphosa’s own spokesperson, Khusela Diko.

Reports emerged of billions of rands being looted by South Africa’s “Covidpreneurs”. At the centre of the scandal was a R124 million personal protective equipment tender that had allegedly been irregularly awarded to Royal Bhaca Projects – a company owned by amaBhaca King Madzikazi II Thandisizwe, Diko’s husband.

The Special Investigating Unit was roped in to investigate R2.2 billion worth of emergency purchases of personal protective equipment, with 90 companies that had received contracts from the Gauteng health department under the spotlight.

The unit is also investigating R30 million in alleged irregular contracts in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as a R4.8 million contract awarded by the Eastern Cape government to the OR Tambo District Municipality for a Covid-19 awareness campaign.

Billions meant to ease the plight of suffering South Africans were again redirected by ANC bigwigs for their own benefit.


While the country’s political elite lined their pockets with millions – even billions – of looted cash, the majority of citizens teetered on the brink of starvation, unemployment and homelessness due to the extended national lockdown.

GDP fell by just over 16% between the first and second quarters of the year, giving a projected annual growth rate of 51%.

This forced government to urgently engage its business and labour partners, leading to the draft of an economic recovery plan that was announced by Ramaphosa in October. In it, he committed to fundamental structural reform interventions to enable both global and local investment, the achievement of inclusive and sustainable growth, as well as critical interventions to stabilise the fiscal situation, such as managing debt and public expenditure.

However, he failed to take a hard stance on state-owned enterprises.

The Special Investigating Unit was roped in to investigate R2.2 billion worth of emergency purchases of personal protective equipment, with 90 companies that had received contracts from the Gauteng health department under the spotlight

The national state of disaster declared by government on March 15 was a direct response to Covid-19, but inadvertently intensified three already existing crises: poverty, unemployment and inequality.

This meant that more South Africans than ever before were poor and unemployed. Recognising the social and human costs of the pandemic and the lockdown, government announced interventions to provide protection.

These included top-ups to existing social grants (R250 a month), a caregiver grant (R500 a month), a Covid-19 social relief of distress grant (R350 a month) and a temporary employee relief scheme, in addition to the aforementioned food parcels.


After again disappointing citizens who had voted for the ANC in last year’s national elections, the party – due to widespread criticism that saw the hashtag #VoetsekANC trend on social media – called an emergency national executive committee (NEC) meeting, where the “renewal of the ANC” and the prioritisation of the “fight against corruption” were among the issues discussed.

The NEC reaffirmed a 2017 policy resolution that “cadres of the ANC who are formally charged for corruption or other serious crimes must immediately step aside from all leadership positions in the ANC, legislatures or other government structures pending the finalisation of their cases” – an undertaking that was seen as a significant step towards ridding the party of corrupt leaders.

Read: The conveniences of power and corruption are the biggest threats to our constitutional democracy

Following this resolution, a few ANC leaders voluntarily stepped aside, only to reverse their decisions when other equally accused members refused to do so of their own accord. Instead of the resolution making the positive difference that was initially envisaged when it was taken, it has now come back to bite the ANC in the backside, proving just how factional and self-serving many of the party’s members are.


While the ANC was embroiled in combatting the pervasive levels of fraud and corruption in its ranks, the DA spent much of the year trying to rebuild itself, following its dismal showing in last year’s elections.

Having lost votes to the Freedom Front Plus, as well as losing leaders including former DA leader Mmusi Maimane, former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, former City of Cape Town mayor Patrica de Lille and former party federal chairperson and mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Athol Trollip last year, the DA continued to haemorrhage leaders – particularly black ones.

Former Gauteng DA leader John Moodey, former DA City of Johannesburg mayoral committee member Funzi Ngobeni and former Tshwane DA leader Abel Tau were among the black leaders who traded the blue of the DA for the green and white of Mashaba’s new party, ActionSA. The DA then lost the former head of its election campaign, Jonathan Moakes, and former DA CEO Paul Boughey to Mashaba’s new party.

Read: Moodey becomes latest former DA member to join Mashaba’s party

Compounding its disastrous year, the DA shot itself in the foot after its policy conference, where it had ditched race-based policies, race and gender quotas, declaring: “When embraced, diversity acts as a potential bulwark against the uniformity of thought and closed thinking.”

However, when the party held its first virtual elective conference, it voted in a majority white leadership.

With John Steenhuisen elected as party leader, former party leader Helen Zille beat out sole rival Mike Moriarty to be re-elected as chair of the party’s federal council – a role in which she has significant influence over the DA’s day-to-day running.

James Masango and Thomas Walters were elected unopposed as Zille’s deputies on the federal council.

Dion George was also elected unopposed as federal finance chairperson, Dr Ivan Meyer was re-elected unopposed as the DA’s federal chairperson. Jacques Smalle, Anton Bredell and Refiloe Nt’sekhe were elected as the three deputy federal chairs.

While the policy resolutions and elective conference were marred by controversy, the holding of both events virtually set a precedent for how political conferences could soon be hosted in the Covid-19 climate. Apart from a few complaints leading up to the two conferences, the DA managed to pull them off without a hitch.


While the red berets’ support base was arguably growing faster than that of the DA, there was concern about how the party would sustain this support base, particularly under lockdown.

Leading up to last year’s national elections, analysts rightly concluded that, had the elections been held on social media platforms, the EFF would have come out on top. As a result of the lockdown and restrictions on movement, the EFF appears to again be harnessing its populism online.

Once known for its confrontational protests and large support base coming mainly from higher education campuses, the party now appears to have morphed into a serious force online, launching its own labour desk through which employees facing workplace challenges can seek the red berets’ intervention. The party has also launched a gender-based violence desk and has taken on issues of reported racism.

EFF anger in Senekal. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

In addition, it launched an aggressive social media campaign and physical protest against South Africa’s leading health, beauty and lifestyle chain, Clicks. It also descended on Senekal in the Free State following the circulation on social media of a video showing white famers going on the rampage at a court in the province.

Nevertheless, the by-elections this year – in which the EFF failed to win a single ward in the country – showed that populism is not enough. The EFF has a long way to go if it aims to be a serious contender.


There was another addition to South Africa’s already saturated political fraternity when Mashaba announced the launch of his new political party in August, a mere 10 months after leaving the DA.

ActionSA caused new headaches for his former party, most of whose senior leaders jumped ship to align themselves with Mashaba.

Read: ActionSA officially a political party as IEC approves

It has not been all sunshine and roses for the newly formed party, however. The Electoral Commission of SA declined to register ActionSA, citing the use of the South African flag in its logo and similarities in its abbreviation to other existing parties.

Herman Mashaba launched ActionSA. Picture: Gallo Images

Mashaba initially vowed to challenge this decision, but later accepted defeat and is in the process of rebranding.


In a landmark decision handed down by Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga of the Constitutional Court in New Nation Movement NPC & Others v President of the Republic of South Africa & Others on June 11, the Constitutional Court declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional to the extent that it requires adult South African citizens to be elected to the National Assembly or provincial legislatures only through their membership of a political party.

Read: ConCourt declares parts of the Electoral Act unconstitutional

This ruling now affords independent candidates the opportunity to contest for seats in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures, requiring an overhaul of the current Electoral Act and significant changes ahead of the 2024 national elections.


Another lowlight of 2020 came when former President Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane finally broke their silence in a tell-all YouTube channel escapade.

Among other things, the pair addressed the passing of Duduzane’s mother, the alleged poisoning of now Deputy President David Mabuza and the former president’s numerous legal challenges.

Duduzane Zuma

While their endeavours were seen by analysts as a diversion and a ploy to garner sympathy, there is no doubt that the younger Zuma’s popularity grew immensely. Seemingly buoyed by the response he received from young people, he announced his intention to launch a career in politics and contest in the 2024 national elections. How that will happen remains a mystery.


For the first time in years, government has shown signs that it is committed to cutting its wage bill. In his budget speech in February, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced a proposed R260 billion cut to the public-sector wage bill, which included reductions of R160.2 billion in the bill during the medium-term expenditure framework period until 2023 in an attempt to trim the budget deficit.

The announcement was met with great disdain from public-sector unions and the ANC’s alliance partner, trade union federation Cosatu.

Read: Mboweni faces battle with trade unions as he stands firm on plans to cut wage bill

In his medium-term budget speech in October, Mboweni announced another R230 billion cut over the next two years to the already slushed public-sector wage bill.

National Treasury and the department of public services and administration also reneged its deal to on implement clause 3 of resolution 1 of the 2018 Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council agreement, leading to a showdown this month between public-sector unions and government before the labour court.


Juniour Khumalo 

Political Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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