Ending the "en nou?" syndrome in govt

Mugabe Ratshikuni writes that State Capture is not just a Gupta phenomenon

In a presentation delivered to the ANC Gauteng Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) in 2009, under the title "State Power and Revolution in our Times", Joel Netshitenzhe narrated a story of a senior civil servant who had been recently appointed, who was telling Comrade Joel that there were business people approaching him and saying to him “en nou?” In other words, they were saying, we lobbied for you to get appointed to your current position and now that you are there, what are you going to do for us or give to us? Netshitenzhe calls this the “en nou syndrome”, a phenomenon which is right at the heart of the state capture challenge that we currently find ourselves faced with.

There has been much coverage of the state capture phenomenon, particularly with regards to the Gupta brothers and their influence on senior government appointments and procurement processes under the Zuma administration, which has led to a huge public uproar and rightly so. It is encouraging to see that the long arm of the law is finally wrapping itself around those who were involved in looting our state coffers at the expense of the subalterns of our society.

In looking to resolve the challenge of state capture within this new dispensation of renewal and hope that we have entered into however, we have to cast our net much wider than just focussing on the scandals and shenanigans that have revolved around the Gupta family in the past few years.

In doing this, there needs to be a realisation that the state in and of itself is a contested terrain, with class interests amongst many others contesting to find expression. Within this contested terrain, we as a government of revolutionary democrats are endeavouring to use the state power that we have enjoyed since 1994 to advance the National Democratic Revolution. This is in line with our belief that the state has a critical strategic role to play in society, with the state’s role needing to be adjusted to suit the needs of the national economy.

So in fighting state capture, we must beware of this phenomenon of political and corporate elites looking to use the state to advance their own interests, at the expense of the rest of society through networks and patronage systems that foster corruption, in the manner that Netshitenzhe explains above. It goes without saying that this phenomenon is bigger than just the interests of one family, as the currently popular narrative would have us believe.

The fight against state capture is a fight to, “build a society defined by decency and integrity that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people”, as iterated by President Ramaphosa in his highly celebrated maiden State of the Nation address. So in fighting against the capture of the state by sectional interests, we are fighting for a just, equitable society where each individual’s prospects are determined by their own initiative, drive, enterprise, determination, ingenuity, hard work and effort as opposed to their background or social status.

It is in line with this that we must of necessity build the capacity of the state and its entities to deliver to our people. As a governing party, we must systematically implement a cadre and leadership policy that will enhance our capacity to radically transform the economy in order to improve people’s lives. This is informed by the view that we need a bureaucracy that understands its role as a critical implementer of the policy mandate of the governing party at any particular period.

This speaks to our much criticised cadre deployment policy. The problem is not necessarily with cadre deployment as a philosophy, but rather with our current exercise of it. If there is anything that the Zuma years have taught us, it is that we must have a clear understanding of the relationship between party and state and not leave any room for a convoluted interpretation of this extremely complex, but critical relationship.

With regards to radical socio-economic transformation and the role of the state, we need to move away from dogmatic ideological positions and populist rhetoric and find a mean somewhere, which represents the best interests of the people. So, for example, our posture should be informed by the position advocated by comrade Joel Netshitenzhe, “We also need a mind-set change in how we go about de-racialising ownership of the economy. We must accept that efforts to date have had limited success, and we need new conversations with all economic role players about how we radically increase the black share of assets and wealth.

In doing this, we must be cognisant of historical reality which shows that crude and aggressive indigenisation programmes lead to capital flight, declining levels of investment, increased social tension, and most importantly negative impacts on poverty and employment. We must also accept that indigenisation programmes often serve as little more than thinly veiled attempts of politically–connected elites to capture rents (what the SACP recently termed radical economic looting.”

So, the battle against state capture requires us to do what President Ramaphosa has been talking about: encourage collaboration, partnership and consensus building, a new social compact between the various stakeholders that make up our society, to build an inclusive, growing economy which is transformed enough to accurately depict the demographic realities of our country. In this way, we will ensure that no particular group can of its own “capture the state.”

It is for this reason that we welcome President Ramaphosa’s call for the implementation of lifestyle audits for all people who occupy positions of leadership, beginning with (but not limited to) the executive. It is only in this way that we will be able to decisively deal with the “en nou” syndrome that constitutes so much of the state capture project. In concluding his presentation to the ANC Gauteng PEC as referred to at the beginning, Netshitenzhe rightly postulated, “but I suppose we will all agree that if state power is to promote the objectives of the NDR, the response of a cadre of the movement to the question, ‘en nou’ would have been: ‘n beter lewe vir almal’ (a better life for all).” That is, what indeed, we are all about, a better life for all.

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.