As a country, we are desperate for action. We have survived the "nine lost years" but can see all around us the detritus of that awful time. State agencies have been left crippled, there has been widespread looting and corruption, service delivery has been shoddy, the economy is battered and we need jobs. What frustrates us more than anything is that thanks to a robust media, we largely know who was responsible for it all. Yet, there has not been one conviction and many Zuma apparatchiks are still in office.
When Cyril Ramaphosa assumed office in the Union Buildings, he was faced with the arduous task of loosening the grip of all those cadres who had been deployed across government to aid and abet the state capture project. Many of those who are either in leadership positions or middle management, have been clinging on, using HR processes and the courts to fight suspensions or disciplinary hearings.
Ramaphosa realised from the outset that he could not trust the criminal justice system to be fully functional and to deal with those who had broken the law. In an ideal world, the Hawks, the SAPS, SARS and the NPA would have rooted out the corrupt. Also, the internal disciplinary measures of the various organisations had to a large extent been captured too.
So he set about establishing various inquiries. In this way at least he could, at the very least, get all the dirt into the public domain. This would add pressure on those individuals responsible and force them out. Personally, I would have preferred to see criminal prosecutions and witnesses like Angelo Agrizzi testifying in a court of law rather than an inquiry. But Ramaphosa has been playing the long game, patiently waiting for the strategy to pay off.
And pay off it is starting to do.
In October last year, Ramaphosa appointed retired Constitutional Court justice Yvonne Mokgoro to head an inquiry into the fitness to hold office of two senior prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi. Ramaphosa was about to appoint a permanent national director of the NPA and knew he had to clear the way for that new head to take control of the organisation. That would never have been possible if Jiba and Mrwebi were still at the VGM building in Silverton, which we learnt from how Mxolisi Nxasana was pushed out.
Now six months later, that strategy has come into play. Ramaphosa fired Jiba and Mrwebi after Mokgoro recommended he does so. The duo have repeatedly fought suspension during their careers but now that the president has followed due process, it will be near impossible for them to survive. This will allow Shamila Batohi to properly clean house and regain control of the NPA. Now we just need to see some substantial prosecutions.
In May last year, Ramaphosa appointed former judge Robert Nugent to head an inquiry into SARS. Public confidence in the tax body had plummeted on Tom Moyane's watch, leaving a nearly R50 billion shortfall in revenue collection. Moyane had spearheaded the campaign against the non-existent 'Rogue Unit' within SARS and had allegedly protected VIP taxpayers who had sufficient influence.
Six months after that, Nugent made recommendations to Ramaphosa that there should be criminal prosecutions, contracts should be set aside, there should be recovery of expenditure and that Moyane should foot his own legal bills. The findings were a damning indictment on Moyane who was fired by the President. He has tried his very best to challenge the decision in court but has failed. There is now a new taxman in town and Edward Kieswietter is working to right the ship.
At the State Security Agency, the pattern has been much the same. In June last year, Ramaphosa appointed a review panel, headed by former Mbeki-era police minister Sydney Mufamadi, to look at the country's spy structure, to see what went wrong with the intelligence networks and how to ensure there isn't a repeat in the future. In March this year, Ramaphosa took the decision to release the classified bombshell report by the panel.
The report revealed shocking details about how Cabinet ministers and NGOs were spied on illegally and recommended criminal prosecutions for those responsible. It detailed serious factionalisation and politicisation of the intelligence structures in the country.
In all three of these instances, Ramaphosa has successfully managed to get all the dirt of the previous regime into the open and in doing so, can firmly point a finger at Zuma. He can say, that was then and now we are the "new dawn".
We can probably expect a similar outcome from the inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation that is still ongoing. In October last year, Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Lex Mpati was appointed to investigate "alleged improprieties" at the state-owned company. Already, the PIC's acting CEO has been suspended as a result of evidence led there.
The real question will be how patient the country will be when it comes to the headline inquiry that is dealing with the big-time allegations of state capture at the inquiry being run by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. We have already heard months of evidence coming out of the Zondo commission, laying bare the extent of capture by the Guptas, Bosasa and others. There are still no criminal prosecutions emanating from this evidence and South Africans are desperate for action. We want to see people paying for what they did and being held responsible for stealing from the country's coffers and selling us out for their own hubris and greed.
Ramaphosa has shown that his patient long game is paying off and he will no doubt be confident that the same result will come at Zondo. The rest of us will have to exercise that confidence and patience too.
- Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.