William Saunderson-Meyer says President's appeasement approach does not work in a criminal state
Serious criminal complaints against a sitting president by his former security chief would be high drama anywhere in the world. In South Africa, where much is not what it seems, it in passing throws up one of those bizarre paradoxes that this country specialises in.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, when it’s boiled down to the nitty-gritty, faces criminal sanctions and political ignominy for the burglary of his own money from his own home. Whatever might follow, he is first of all a victim of crime.
In contrast, his bête noire, former President Jacob Zuma is, on the face of it, a perpetrator of crime. He facilitated the decade-long looting of more than a trillion rands of taxpayer money, yet has not only eluded justice but is venerated by many South Africans. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
Zuma, despite his seedy personal life and dismal presidential record — which includes charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money laundering — remains a potent force in the African National Congress. He’s the malevolent spider at the centre of the party’s Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction, which allegedly orchestrated and undeniably benefited from increasing incidents of public disorder and violence, including the riots of July last year.
It is Ramaphosa, however, who stands on the edge of catastrophe. If simply charged with any serious offence arising from the unreported theft of a substantial amount of money from his Limpopo game ranch, never mind convicted, his career will lie in ashes.
With his personal moral standing punctured, CR’s promised reputational rehabilitation of the ANC will be seen to have been just another cynical gimmick designed to pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes. More seriously for the country, he will — in terms of regulations that he introduced against RET looters — have to step aside as leader of the party and the nation, and his successor will be decided, in large measure, by a resurgent Zuma and RET cabal.
None of this is the result of the ebb and flow of random circumstances. It’s a perfectly timed move by the RET faction, just at the moment when Ramaphosa’s progression towards a December-mandated second term seemed inevitable. It has also been aggravated by Ramaphosa’s stupendously foolish actions.
Arthur Fraser’s complaint — alleging that CR covered up the burglary of US$4m in cash from his game farm, then kidnapped the suspects, brutally interrogated them, recovered the money, and then paid the miscreants hush money to never mention the incident — has RET fingerprints all over it. Fraser was fired by Ramaphosa from heading the corrupt State Security Agency. In a classic Ramaphosa placatory gesture, Fraser was appointed National Commissioner of Correctional Services.
In thanks, Fraser personally engineered Zuma having to spend not even a night in jail following his minor sentence for contempt of the Constitutional Court. Breaking all department regulations and probably the law, he rustled up a dodgy medical parole that contradicted the findings of the department’s own medical board.
Now, even the most inept vultures are circling. Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane was quick to announce that she, too, is going to investigate Ramaphosa’s alleged crimes.
Instead of suspending her ahead of her impeachment proceedings as Ramaphosa has done, he should have welcomed her investigation, given her legendary incompetence and at best an undergraduate comprehension of the law. Mkhwebane — whose impeachment process was triggered by every major report she produced being overturned and accompanied by scathing judicial assessments of her abilities and ethics — last week reluctantly admitted that she had so far spent R67m of her budget on challenging her judicial reverses all the way to the Constitutional Court. All to no avail.
Some of the president’s nominal allies are also savouring the possibilities opened by a Ramaphosa exit. Deputy President David Mabuza, dogged throughout his Mpumalanga premiership by allegations of fraud, corruption and assassination, slid a thin stiletto into the president’s side during the rowdy parliamentary debate on the matter on Wednesday.
Mabuza was less than fulsome in defence of his leader, in reply to the strident demands for Ramaphosa’s resignation from the Economic Freedom Fighters, an organisation that outstrips even the ANC in its levels of fraud, corruption, violence, and chaos.
“I don't think we have reached that point,” he said with careful precision. “I don't think we have reached any point that seeks to say the president must step down.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Ramaphosa’s innocence.
The commentariat's response to the accusations against Ramaphosa is similarly revealing. Throughout Ramaphosa’s term, most of the media has shared the widely-held view of the public — which is reflected in his popularity ratings compared to those of the ANC — that Ramaphosa, despite his inability to do anything, is at least at heart a moral man.
As such, he serves as a bulwark against a grisly rogues’ gallery of presidential hopefuls. Think of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, David Mabuza, Lindiwe Sisulu, and Zweli Mkhize, all gleefully rubbing their hands in anticipation. In other words, we have to cherish and protect Ramaphosa, since this is as good as it can get under an ANC government after nearly three decades of striving.
The danger is that Ramaphosa may now be shown to be just another ANC crook, albeit a charming one. As Melanie Verwoerd, a lifelong ANC cadre who was Thabo Mbeki’s choice as ambassador to Ireland, wrote in her News24 column this week: “I will really be devastated if it turns out that the president has knowingly done something illegal. In a world of so much corruption and dodgy politicians, he has been one of the very few shining lights.”
She then goes to wonderfully imaginative lengths to explain why a president might have millions of dollars lying around his home unguarded (stuffed in the furniture, claims Fraser); not report it stolen except to his bodyguards, but instead, reward the robbers with a finders fee; and profess uncertainty as to the amount stolen. Also, adding insult to injury having denied for years that farmers are being targets of criminality, explains his silence as being motivated by not wanting to alarm the agricultural community.
These events illustrate the dangerous consequences of Ramaphosa being a pleaser and an appeaser. That doesn’t work in a criminal state, which South Africa now is. The people who he was too timid to get rid of are now moving to destroy him.
But there is an as-yet unexplored upside. The incident explodes for once and all the myth of a “good” ANC and a “bad” ANC. It’s a single entity, rotten to the core. Ramaphosa has been and continues to be, party to, and enabler of, that rot.
Since there’s not much ANC apple left when the bad bits are excised, throw it out. Choose a different one.