JP Landman: It's not all doom and gloom. How the Ramaphosa presidency is reclaiming the state

Ronald Lamola is sworn in as Minister of Justice and Correctional Services by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Ronald Lamola is sworn in as Minister of Justice and Correctional Services by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

"Just do something" is the cry now rising from all over South Africa, a plea to the president and government in general to take some action to break the logjam in which the country finds itself. Confidence is low, growth sluggish, and emigration high. It is useful to replay what has been done, writes JP Landman.

The Ramaphosa administration has set itself two tasks: to rebuild the ethical foundations of the state and to revitalise the economy. The two topics are too much to cover in one article, so I will only discuss ethical renewal here.

Cleaning up and rebuilding ethics

The country first and foremost had to be reclaimed from the forces of state capture. Ramaphosa appointed four commissions of inquiry to help with the clean-up offensive. Two are still in session (the ubiquitous Zondo commission and the Mpati Commission into the Public Investment Corporation or PIC) and two have finished their work. Between these commissions, the four have sparked considerable action – a lot of which we have already forgotten. 

Freeing critical institutions 

It is useful to remember that both the erstwhile number one and number two in SARS, Tom Moyane and Jonas Makwakwa, are gone. So is the embarrassing former head of IT at SARS, Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, who made such a spectacle of herself on national television that she publicly apologised for it.

That is not all. In the last week of July three SARS executives were suspended. The clean-up continues. The EFF and the Public Protector are fighting a rear-guard action against SARS renewal with old allegations of rogue units and attacks on new SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter. He is forging ahead unperturbed and can leave the Public Protector to the courts.

At the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the erstwhile top three have also departed. One is fighting her dismissal in court and two have appealed to Parliament not to be fired, which will be an interesting test case for who is in charge in Parliament. The departure of the three has freed the NPA from its era of Zuma capture and it is being rebuilt. The new director, Shamila Batohi, who has experience at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, has returned to South Africa to take up the baton.

Batohi took office in February. In March, a special investigative unit focusing on cases arising from state capture revelations was formed. In May, Batohi brought in well-known corruption buster Hermione Cronjé, who returned to South Africa with valuable international experience to lead the new unit. A senior advocate from the Cape Town Bar, Geoff Budlender, has been appointed as strategic advisor to this unit. Batohi also reappointed Willie Hofmeyr as head of the asset forfeiture unit after he was side-lined three years ago by the Zuma squad.

I wrote in April this year that 2020 will be the year of prosecutions and I explained why at the time. I maintain this view.

Over at the Hawks both the former head and acting head have been fired and replaced by the soft-spoken and highly regarded general Godfrey Lebeya. His influence is showing: two captains and a warrant officer from the Hawks were arrested for bribes. In Durban both the mayor and a councillor have been arrested by the Hawks and have appeared in court (with the usual tweet from Zuma supporting the mayor and her supporters protesting outside the courthouse).

Two senior officials from the Durban Metro were also arrested. A mayor of Newcastle was arrested for an alleged political murder; as was a former mayor of Endumeni for alleged conspiracy to murder. Not bad for an erstwhile Zuma (and current ANC) stronghold.

In the Free State nine civil servants and a director of a company were arrested and charged – one for interfering with the work of the Hawks. In Mpumalanga a former local ANC chief whip was arrested for corruption and fraud. The Hawks are clearly at work.

In Limpopo the VBS report claimed the scalps of five mayors who resigned; a further four were fired and another three were suspended. In the North West three mayors resigned, one was suspended, and three have taken legal advice to try and avoid dismissal. Public opinion counts – especially in the run-up to an election.

At the SAPS a deputy commissioner has been fired and six officers of general or brigadier rank have been charged. As recently as last week seven junior officers were arrested for selling confiscated goods back to hawkers. In a significant ruling in July, one of the "untouchables", former head of crime intelligence Richard Mdluli, was convicted of several charges for offences committed 20 years ago in 1999. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn. (This is what John Block, the former ANC strongman in the Northern Cape and a Zuma acolyte, also discovered – after many legal manoeuvres he is now serving a 15-year jail sentence.)

The ubiquitous SOEs

The SOEs are still burning cash and their balance sheets are shocking, but on the ethical front a lot has happened. 

At Eskom, former big bosses Brian Molefe, Anoj Singh and Matshela Koko are gone. Molefe has also been pursued by Solidarity and must now repay R10m to the Eskom Pension Fund. Lifestyle audits were conducted on 365 Eskom managers, resulting in 44 cases being referred to the Special Investigating Unit. More than 1 000 disciplinary cases were instituted, and 116 employees decided to resign, including 14 senior executives. Of 25 employees who had "business interest in suppliers dealing with Eskom", seven resigned and the rest terminated their interests. Eskom has experienced a serious clean-up.

A year after the notorious Hlaudi Motsoeneng was dismissed from the SABC, three of his erstwhile henchmen are gone too. (The verbose Hlaudi failed with court challenges to regain his job and then went on to fail again in his election efforts to get into Parliament.) In an important self-initiated report published last week, compiled by veteran journalist Joe Thloloe, the broadcaster laid bare political interference in its editorial policy.

Former minister Faith Muthambi complained she was "rubbished" in the report – this could not have happened to a nicer person. Expect further fallout from the Thloloe report. A Zuma-appointed chairman is still in place at the SABC and the corporation wants a mere R3bn to stay afloat, but a clean-up has certainly taken place.

The PIC saga is still ongoing before the Mpati commission, but a new board is already in place, the CEO and two senior executives are gone, and several have been suspended. In an important break with the past, Cabinet reversed the practice of a politician chairing the board. Under new chair Reuel Khoza’s experienced leadership and rock-solid integrity, the PIC will, with a little help from the Mpati commission, be cleaned up properly and will head in a new direction.

In his second stint as Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, desperately tried to get rid of the former Zuma acolyte, Dudu Myeni from SAA. She is now gone, as are several former senior executives. Everybody can see how the once-mighty have fallen. For SAA, there is only the small matter of staying afloat.

At Transnet, five executives departed, including the CEO, and eight more have been suspended.

At Denel, the CEO, finance chief and chair are all gone. Both Denel and SAA have new boards. It may not be enough to save them financially, especially Denel, but action has been taken against weak ethics.


Perhaps the biggest clean-up took place in Cabinet. 

Ramaphosa inherited a Cabinet of 36 ministers. There are now 28. At most, five of these can be described as Zuma- or Magashule-supporting and some of them will even deny this. The number of government departments has been reduced from 40 to 35.

For all the publicity that was given to erstwhile Zuma ministers who were appointed chairs of parliamentary committees, the numbers speak for themselves. There are 36 committees in Parliament. Traditionally the Select Committee on Public Finance (Scopa) has an opposition party member as chair. That is the case again in this Parliament. Of the remaining 35 committee chairs, 11 may be regarded as Zuma or Magashule supporters.

Most of these are ministers who were kicked out of Cabinet. From a minister to a chair of a parliamentary committee where every move is watched by opposition parties… and now we are asked to believe that they are paralysing government?

So what?

Part of Ramaphoria was the belief that the bad guys would lose. That is certainly happening.

  • People who were once untouchable have fallen from grace for all to see. Some have even been convicted already. The impunity of the Zuma years is slowly being reversed.
  • The process is not over, with the Zondo commission still in session and almost weekly revelations of appalling behaviour.
  • Getting convictions in court is very different from revealing things at a commission. Despite this, many people have already fallen on their swords.
  • Civil society organisations have helped in this clean-up and this speaks volumes for South Africa’s democratic activism. 

- JP Landman is a political analyst. This article was originally written for Nedbank Private Wealth.

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