A classic case of damage control at the expense of taking any form of accountability – this is how one can summarise President Cyril Ramaphosa’s underwhelming two-day “performance” at the state capture commission of inquiry this week.
Appearing before the commission in his capacity as ANC president, Ramaphosa, who had initially promised not to “justify the unjustifiable”, prioritised toeing the party line and, in so doing, downplayed his party’s inertia against allegations of state capture.
He pleaded ignorance regarding the governing party’s donations from the likes of Bosasa, Edwin Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting and the Gupta family.
It was a missed opportunity for Ramaphosa, who was the country’s fifth administration’s deputy president – a time when state capture was at its zenith. South Africans had been eagerly anticipating his appearance at the Zondo commission so they could get a glimpse of where things went wrong.
He made a lot of acknowledgements that at some point things went “horribly wrong”, but he did not pinpoint when and precisely what oversight mechanisms failed, a failure that led to things falling apart.
While acknowledging a “total system failure” at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as Eskom and SAA being hollowed out by state capture, facilitated by the appointment of politically selected executives, Ramaphosa refused to assign blame to the ANC’s questionable cadre deployment and development policy.
At best, he made concessions of ANC “lapses” and “delays” in taking action regarding the mounting evidence of the Gupta family’s influence on ministers and executives at SOEs.
Besides his many acknowledgements and concessions, the wily Ramaphosa appeared to also disarm the commission’s overly friendly evidence leaders and chairperson through constantly indicating that, “in hindsight”, his party has come to the realisation of its failings and was putting in place various checks and balances to ensure that there would be no repeat of any form of state capture.
All in all, it was a half-hearted attempt at accountability.
The only positive was his willingness to appear and voluntary comply with the law and structures like the state capture commission – in stark contrast to former president Jacob Zuma, who is facing a possible jail term for defying the commission’s order to appear before it.