Mavuso Msimang: The struggle for democracy and clean government is far from over

ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang.
ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang.

One year on from the general election, we’ve seen progress towards the realisation of clean government, with some backsliding and powerful resistance to reform and reconstruction. We’ve also come to understand the devastating scale of the damage inflicted upon key public institutions, writes Mavuso Msimang.

Last year I concluded my chairperson's message with an urgent plea, "…to usher in a new order that gives us the government and democracy that we deserve, and of which we can be proud". A few months later, we went to the polls to cast our votes in the sixth democratic elections. We can all be proud that, once again, the conduct of the elections conformed to the highest standards required by this landmark event in the life of any democracy.

The electorate returned the ANC to power, albeit with a significantly reduced majority, no thanks to the complicity of its erstwhile leadership in corruption. But it retained majority support because its current leadership acknowledged that it had let the country down by allowing the state to be captured by a toxic combination of moneyed and political interests. It promised the country a "new dawn", one characterised by a resolute fight against the corruption that nearly brought us to our knees.

One year on, we’ve seen progress towards the realisation of that goal, with some backsliding and powerful resistance to reform and reconstruction. We’ve also come to understand the devastating scale of the damage inflicted upon key public institutions. The struggle for democracy and clean government is far from over!

Progress in the battle against corruption is evidenced by the removal of corrupt leadership at the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and South African Revenue Service (Sars), and their replacement by people of integrity and competence; by the removal of the worst of the Zuma-era cabinet ministers; by the establishment of the special unit in the NPA and the tribunal in the Special Investigating Unit; by the establishment of commissions of enquiry into state capture, Sars and the Public Investment Corporation; by the removal of corrupt board members and executives at key state-owned enterprises; by the arrest and prosecution of reasonably prominent political leaders such as Bongani Bongo and Zandile Gumede; by the greater openness of government leaders to work with civil society organisations; by progress made in the development of a National Anti-Corruption strategy. All this demonstrates the will to tackle corruption.

On the other hand, the appointment of several ministers and deputy ministers with dark clouds over their heads; the presence in the governing party’s leadership and parliamentary caucus of some of the leading perpetrators of state capture; the president’s failure to sign the Political Party Funding Act into operation and his decision to sign into effect the unconstitutional, apartheid-era Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Act; the continued support by leading ANC members for the discredited public protector. All this evidences a government and party leadership unwilling or unable to give effect to the wishes of those who voted it into power.

This contempt for the fundamental norms of democracy isn’t confined to the governing party. The thuggery that characterises the conduct of the EFF and their increasingly strident attacks on the media, judiciary and civil society organisations; the failure of all the big parties to put aside their narrow interests in favour of ensuring the effective governance of our metropolitan areas. These all signal the immaturity of our young democracy.

Former eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede.

Former eThekwini Mayor, Zandile Gumede, is facing corruption charges - which shows the will to tackle corruption, argues Mavuso Msimang.

When our political leaders conduct themselves in this manner and get away with it, is it any wonder that amoral private sector leaders seize the opportunity to feather their own nests with impunity? McKinsey, KPMG, Cash Paymaster Services, Steinhoff, Tongaat Hulett, all belong in the rogues' gallery that has come to dominate South Africa's public life.

What is to be done?

Firstly, focus on those institutions and sectors whose goods and services are vital to the interests of the poorest South Africans and the most marginalised communities. Fix Eskom, Transnet and Prasa. Eradicate corruption in the provision of healthcare services and policing services. Take on those who have robbed mining communities of the royalties to which they are entitled. Tackle corruption in provincial and local government, those tiers of government most directly responsible for providing for the most basic needs of our people.

Secondly, punish perpetrators of corruption. The public won't be convinced of government's will to tackle corruption, until we see some of its most high-profile perpetrators in the dock. Only when the risk of engaging in corruption is raised will would-be perpetrators be deterred.

Thirdly, fix our democracy. Regulate party political funding, including funding for electoral contests for leadership positions in political parties. Remove corrupt parliamentarians. Show zero tolerance for those who brazenly treat our courts with contempt. Support those journalists and civil society organisations at the forefront of the challenge to corruption.

And to all those who have supported Corruption Watch and who believe that we are entitled to a government and private sector that shows us respect: stay angry, participate in civic and political life, hold those in authority to account. And remember that governments and the private sector are only as good as their citizens and their customers are demanding!

** Mavuso Msimang is chairperson of the board of Corruption Watch. This is an extract from CW's 2019-'20 annual report.

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