Ramaphosa moves to blunt Zondo

William Saunderson-Meyer on why the commission's damning reports are likely to lead nowhere


Another Zondo report.? Part Two? Yawn.

Not because it’s not important. On the contrary, it’s critical to South Africa’s slow process of escaping from the primaeval slime that a decade of state capture has dumped us. 

But it’s a yawn because we all know that the moment that the Deputy Chief Justice handed to President Ramaphosa yet another painstakingly compiled and damning indictment of the governing party’s criminality, it became irrelevant. In that instant, it transmogrified from Zondo blockbuster to Ramaphosa block-blustering —  just another report that CR will obstruct with inertia and smother with unkept promises. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The list of African National Congress deployees, ministers and officials fingered by the Commission continues to. expand. There are the Transnet bosses Siyabonga Gama, Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh, former ministers Malusi Gigaba and Lynne Brown, as well as two members of Ramaphosa’s present Cabinet, Communications & Digital Technologies Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, and catch-of-the-day, Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, a key ally of the president. 

They join the dozens named in Zondo Part One, including the former head of GCIS, the state information service, Mzwanele Mani; the former head of the SA Revenue service Tom Moyane; SA Airways’ former chair Dudu Myeni and former board member Yakhe Kwinana; Eskom CEO Collin Matjila; former Finance Minster Des van Rooyen; former SA National Defence Force chief and Minister of Communication Siphiwe Nyanda; and Jeff Radebe, who has served in every Cabinet since 1994.

And at the centre of it all, like a malevolent spider, former president Jacob Zuma. While the Zondo reports have, so far, made no mention of Ramaphosa’s role in the pillage, it is easy to forget that he sat at the Chief Spider’s side during the four worst years of state capture. There can be no real surprises in the Zondo reports for CR. He was there.

It is then with irony, but no apparent embarrassment, that Ramaphosa again this week hailed the report as a “significant step in ridding the county of corruption”. “During the course of the past four years, the Commission has constructed a disturbing picture of the depth and damage of state capture. We should now apply our energies to the Commission's recommendations and take the necessary steps to make sure we never again face this onslaught on public resources and on the fabric of our society.”

The public scepticism that greeted these words is well justified. 

The National Prosecuting Authority appears to be gridlocked, with Zuma loyalists within the NPA white-anting efforts to prosecute. After three years in the top job, Director Shamila Batohi’s excuses are threadbare. One wonders whether she’s simply not up to the job and that Ramaphosa appointed her for exactly that reason.

Ramaphosa’s “necessary steps” are compromised in advance. Take Zondo’s findings on Ntshavheni and Mantashe. In any democracy worthy of its name, they would have resigned immediately upon being accused of dishonesty by a judicial commission.

Zondo has recommended that law enforcement agencies investigate Ntshavheni's period as a director of arms manufacturer Denel, with a view to possible prosecution for delinquency. And the allegations against Mantashe are far more serious.

The former secretary-general of the ANC is implicated in paving the way for the capture of the Transnet board, in order that the Gupta cabal could loot the R300bn locomotive procurement fund. Mantashe is eviscerated with studied politeness by Zondo. He describes Mantashe’s testimony as “implausible”, “inconsistent with the facts”, “not credible” and a “fiction”. 

Mantashe seems to be unperturbed by Zondo’s findings, confident of his indispensability to Ramaphosa’s political survival. The Zondo report, he says, shouldn’t be used internally to settle party scores, but rather be used “to correct the weakness, to correct the mistakes we have committed” and to rebuild the ANC. 

To this end, the ANC has appointed a “task team” to deal with the Zondo Commission report. Two of the members — Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and the former head of the policy unit in Thabo Mbeki’s administration, Joel Netshitenzhe — are well regarded and free of any corruption taint. Not so, the other two members of the task team, Lindiwe Maseko and Radebe. 

Maseko was accused of corruption half a dozen years ago, while serving as Gauteng Speaker, but let off the hook because of “ambiguities” in the regulations governing the behaviour of public officers. Radebe has trailed a stench from long before featuring in the Zondo report, having been Zuma’s point man on finding a malleable National Director of Public Prosecutions.

It is with Radebe — who is related to Ramaphosa by marriage and is a contender for the deputy-presidency — that Ramaphosa’s commitment to ANC reform is most clearly exposed as a charade. First, Radebe, found by the Zondo Commission to have aided the Zupta cabal in state capture, is part of the ANC task team that will decide how the party deals with the report. Second, Radebe, who must by now harbour some antipathy towards Zondo, is part of the panel appointed to decide whether Zondo will become the next Chief Justice.

The task team will sing to the Ramaphosa tune, which is at all costs to avoid doing anything that might split the party. Expect delay and prevarication — the watchword’s of the Ramaphosa administration — as the president tries to ride out the months to the ANC’s December conference, the occasion that will either confirm him as the party’s second-term choice or ignominiously recall him.

While the cynicism with which South Africans have met Zondo I and Zondo II are justified, it is the third report, which will be released by the end of February, that matter most. It has the potential to be explosive in its effects on the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment, as well as on the credibility of Ramaphosa.

The two are intertwined. A substantial part of Ramaphosa testimony under oath related to the ANC’s cadre deployment policies, an area with which the president is intimately acquainted, since he chaired the party’s deployment committee between 2012 and 2017.

The minutes for these specific years — but not those before or after — Ramaphosa implausibly explained to the Commission, were not available because they’d been lost. It might even have been, Ramaphosa said disingenuously, that minutes were not kept. He could not recall while serving as chair, ever having gone through the minutes of previous meetings.

In both his appearances before the Commission, Ramaphosa pleaded with Zondo not to recommend that the deployment committee should be scrapped, portraying it as a benign consultative body. The deployment minutes for the past three years, made public only following the dogged efforts of the Democratic Alliance, show that to be a lie. The minutes document repeatedly how ANC apparatchiks were placed in powerful positions, over the heads of far better-qualified candidates, on the strength of their party membership. 

Should Zondo, in Part Three, find Ramaphosa’s testimony as implausible and lacking in credibility as he did that of Mantashe, the president’s stature and prospects will take a hefty, perhaps fatal, blow. And if he recommends that cadre deployment should be outlawed, he will cripple the ANC’s power to enlist every institution and entity in South Africa to ensure its survival through patronage and corruption.

Of course, should Zondo do this, he can kiss goodbye any faint chance he might have of being appointed to the position he so richly deserves, that Chief Justice. 

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