Why Zuma couldn't stop corruption, even if he wanted to
The utterances of the ANC today have all the hallmarks of the double-think of George Orwell's 1984. If you haven't read the book, double-think involves holding two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. This means that when your actions contradict your words, you actually believe your own propaganda.
Examples of ANC double-think abound, but nowhere is it more apparent than its stance on corruption.
How often have we seen commentators praising ANC leaders, including the President, for their tough talk on corruption? It always ends with rhetoric. Action never follows.
When the President launched the ANC's manifesto before the last election, he said:
"Most importantly, the ANC will step up measures in the fight against corruption within its ranks and the State...this will include measures to review the tendering system, to ensure that ANC members in business, public servants and elected representatives do not abuse the State for corrupt practices."
In his State of the Nation address this year, he said: "We will pay particular attention to combating corruption and fraud in procurement and tender processes..." He said the same thing the year before. Yet, we have seen no measures introduced to actually do anything about corruption.
These repeated anti-corruption promises are deeply ironic given the cloud of corruption that hangs over the President himself. Extreme double-think must be necessary for Zuma to speak of his "zero tolerance" approach to corruption when he knows how many quashed charges hang over his own head. More than that. As he attacks corruption, President Zuma knows that the ANC undermined the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority to avoid ANC leaders, including himself, having to answer corruption charges in court. The Constitution itself is being sacrificed to the ANC's corruption.
What's more, the ANC has even set up front companies to institutionalise corruption. Most notorious is Chancellor House. Its purpose is to channel tenders and contracts from the ANC in government to the ANC in business in order to enrich the ANC and its leaders. Straight, institutionalised corruption.
Chancellor House facilitated the deal between Eskom and Hitachi Africa, to manufacture boilers for the proposed Medupi Power Station, from which the ANC stands to make an estimated R1-billion tax free profit. Eskom will have to pay with taxpayers' money. And, as a result, the ANC will become one of the wealthiest political parties in the world. Let South Africans remember this when they pay their inflated electricity bills.
So, while some in the ANC leadership rail against the proliferation of tenderpreneurs, the ANC has become the tenderpreneur-in-chief. A pattern is emerging here: the more corrupt the ANC becomes, the tougher its anti-corruption stance. Indeed, this is how double-think works. The graver the deed, the greater the falsehood required to neutralise it in one's mind.
It is time for everyone to realise that corruption is not just an aberration in the ANC that must be ‘rooted out' from time to time. The ANC needs corruption to survive, it is its lifeblood. It needs it to fund its election campaigns. It needs it to pay the loyalty networks necessary for ANC leaders to entrench their power. And it needs corruption to pay for its leadership's lifestyles. ANC leaders in the party, the state, and in business have become an interlocked network of patronage and corruption. Everyone knows that everyone else is corrupt, so they cover up for each other, and abuse power to tighten their grip, undermining independent institutions and eliminating opposition both inside and outside the Party.
In the process, the ANC is turning South Africa into a criminal state. What will it take to get us out of this sordid mess?
The obvious thing would be for President Zuma to stop talking about corruption and take decisive action to actually expose and prevent it. He could announce anti-corruption measures such as preventing political parties from doing business with the state. He could announce laws which prevent government employees from doing business with government. And, he could stop the deployment of cadres to parastatals and institutions integral to the fight against corruption, such as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). He could re-instate the independence of the criminal justice system to expose and prosecute corruption without fear or favour.
But he cannot do any of these things without exposing himself and his closest political allies to criminal prosecution. The criminal justice system has been perverted as an instrument for persecuting political opponents and protecting political allies. But even this selective use of the criminal justice system is becoming difficult because the entire ANC edifice -- allies and opponents alike -- are caught in what Allister Sparks calls a ‘corruption gridlock'. Senior ANC members have so much dirt on each other, that they dare not take action against corruption. If one goes down, he will take the rest down with them. This is precisely what Jacob Zuma himself threatened to do when faced with prosecution relating to the arms deal before he became President.
This explains why the corruption in the arms deal was so successfully covered up. It explains why Julius Malema was able to get away with what he did and said before any rebuke whatsoever from Zuma. It explains why Schabir Shaik is still on medical parole, despite no evidence that he is terminally ill.
In all of these cases, the ANC leadership is paralysed because of its dubious past and future interest in maintaining the status quo. Zuma cannot go beyond rhetoric and take real action against corruption for fear of alienating those who have enough information to bring him down. His time and energy is spent placating those who hold this power over him instead of governing. This is the consequence of endemic corruption.
Most people think Zuma needed to avoid jail so he could become President. Actually, the opposite is true. Zuma needed to become President so that he could avoid jail.
Now that he has succeeded, Zuma is paralysed as a President. You can be sure that nothing will come of his rebuke of Malema. There will be no tough anti-corruption measures taken while he is in office. And, in time, Schabir Shaik will receive a presidential pardon.
If we dig deep enough, I believe we would discover that Jacob Zuma continues to benefit from corrupt relationships to this day. The lifestyle of his family is too lavish to be affordable on his presidential income. We wonder how he can spend millions - which he has insisted is his own money - renovating his residence at Nkandla. And we marvel at how he can support his wives, his fiancée and 20 children on a single salary.
But we also know that his family members, including his wives, are involved in over 100 companies - some of which benefit from state contracts. It was therefore not surprising that Zuma missed the deadline to declare his financial interests by 10 months, and only disclosed his assets when public pressure forced him to. The irresistible inference is that his advisors were sanitising his business interests for public consumption.
All of this tells us why Zuma cannot get tough on corruption, even if he wanted to. The cronies he relies on for political support benefit from corruption too much. Not only this, the ANC benefits. Most of all, Zuma and his family benefit.
This week, the DA tabled private members legislation in the National Assembly that, if passed, would put an end to political parties doing business with the state. This would have prevented the ANC from using its influence at Eskom to grant a multi-billion rand state contract to a company it has a stake in.
Also this week, we announced new legislation in the Western Cape, where the DA governs, that will prevent state employees and their families from doing business with the state, because of the clear conflict of interest this presents.
I have challenged President Zuma to implement this legislation at national level and I look forward to seeing his response. But I am not holding my breath. After all, he is caught in a corruption gridlock. He has too much to lose from taking decisive action against graft.
But what Zuma and his cronies need to understand is that, if they do not act against corruption in their ranks soon, they will lose in the end. They must remember that we live in a democracy and that they are subject to the will of the people. The time will come when even the ANC's staunchest supporters will realise what their party has become. The only remedy available in a democracy is to vote for an alternative.
As ANC NEC member Jeremy Cronin said this week: "The ANC should realise overwhelmingly that the honeymoon is over."
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.
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