Voters can reject ANC using most powerful democratic tool of all

John Steenhuisen says South Africans are going to have to stop relying on Ramaphosa and start relying on their vote


12 August 2021

The only way to build South Africa is to deliver a better life for all, especially for those 30 million living in deep poverty. As Theodore Roosevelt put it: This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.

President Ramaphosa’s new cabinet is not going to do that. It’s mostly a bunch of recycled, incompetent, corrupt ministers pursuing a better life for cadres, with zero accountability.

We need a cabinet comprised of ministers whose integrity, commitment to reform, and track record are beyond reproach; a cabinet to restore the investor confidence devastated by a week of visible, unrestrained looting and a decade of less visible but equally unrestrained looting, both brought to us by the ANC; a cabinet that is seized by the need to put South Africa on a path of economic growth that creates jobs for the millions of unskilled, unemployed people who are heavily dependent on the failing state.

South Africa is a nation traumatized by a week of anarchy, a year of lockdown, a decade of state capture and centuries of oppression. People needed to see a cabinet clean-out that made it clear to outgoing and incoming ministers that anything less than honest delivery to all with an obsessive focus on job-creating economic growth is unacceptable.

Instead, Ramaphosa’s appointment decisions were driven foremost by his desire to unite the warring factions of the ANC. He is yet to accept that he can either save the ANC or South Africa. His strategy is a losing formula: save the ANC to save SA. 

Reform unlikely

The key lesson from the crisis which catalyzed Ramaphosa’s reshuffle, is that South Africa’s capacity for solving problems lies in the private sector, not in the incapable state which fumbled the response to the insurrection. Reform that enables a market-driven economy is our only route to job-creating growth. Yet reform is unlikely.

New finance minister Enoch Godongwana has shown himself to be in favour of a large role for the state in the economy. His leaked ANC discussion document speaks of the “hegemony of the developmental state” and proposes the ultimate investment repellent: forced investment of private pension funds into failing state-owned companies.

If there remains any doubt that Ramaphosa is not serious about reform, then his retention of arch socialists Ebrahim Patel as Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition and Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Public Enterprises should clear that up.

Godongwana also has a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over him for his part in the 2012 Canyon Springs scandal involving R100 million of clothing industry worker’s pension money. Even if he has paid the money back – and we are yet to see any proof of this – the questions around his integrity and judgement remain.

Nor would a president committed to accountability and obsessed with economic growth retain Gwede Mantashe as energy minister. Mantashe has resolutely and unapologetically obstructed renewable power production at the expense of job-creating economic growth and driven a 20-year R218 billion dirty powership deal in irrational response to the need to fill a short-term supply gap.

Mantashe is also tainted by corruption, having accepted bribes from Bosasa in the form of home security upgrades.

As state security minister with an annual budget of some R4 billion, Ayanda Dlodlo failed to foresee the insurrection, even though messages of incitement were posted all over social media. Nevertheless, she has been redeployed as minister of public service administration despite signing the illegal public sector wage agreement that sent South Africa over the fiscal cliff back in 2018 when she held the same position.

Increased safety unlikely

Police minister Bheki Cele kept his job despite failing so badly at it that 337 people died, thousands lost their livelihoods, and billions of rands of value was destroyed during a week where the police were either unwilling or unable to protect people and property while Cele himself was nowhere to be seen.

It’s a job he should not have had in the first place since he, too, is stained by corruption. In July 2011, then-Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found Cele guilty of improper conduct and maladministration for his role in driving the corrupt R1.7 billion lease agreement deal for the Durban and Pretoria police headquarters.

Cele’s incompetence, too, is well-proven. For example, despite Ramaphosa’s promise to women in his seminal speech on gender-based violence in September 2019 that the DNA testing backlog will be addressed, it has now grown to over 300 000 cases.

Increased accountability unlikely

Having himself failed to implement the urgent recommendations of the 2018 high level panel report into the captured and incapacitated State Security Agency, Ramaphosa has seen fit to consolidate the intelligence services in the presidency, effectively appointing himself to head it. This trend of consolidating power in the presidency is concerning, not least because there is no parliamentary portfolio committee overseeing the presidency despite the DA calling for it for over a decade now.

But accountability is clearly not a priority, otherwise Ramaphosa could not justify appointing the compromised Zizi Kodwa as deputy minister in the presidency responsible for state security. At the Zondo Commission in June, Kodwa was exposed as having received R2 million in kickbacks, some of which he used to purchase an R890 000 Jeep.

So much for the ANC’s step-aside rule for those implicated in corruption. As the mostly absent David Mabuza retained his position as deputy president, it seems even attendance isn’t a core requirement for ministers.

But perhaps the most vivid proof of Ramaphosa’s utter disregard for the democratic principles of accountability and transparency is his promotion of Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to head the legislature, one of the three arms of state and the constitutional centre of executive oversight. This, after her failure as minister of defence led to the deaths of 337 people and the loss of thousands of livelihoods.

And that failure comes on the back of many others. Under her watch, the SANDF purchased the unregistered interferon drug from Cuba and blundered the investigations into the death of Collins Khosa at the hands of SANDF soldiers. She is notorious for fusing party and state, having smuggled her son’s girlfriend into South Africa onboard an Air Force jet and overseen the ANC’s jaunt to Zimbabwe also onboard an Air Force jet and in violation of lockdown regulations. All comrades are compromised but some are more compromised than others.

Ramaphosa’s reshuffle delivers the nation nothing more than the illusion of action and accountability.

The buck stops with voters

Yet for all that, there is hope. Accountability and reform are options as long as elections are free and fair. If the ANC rejects accountability and reform, as indeed it has, then voters can reject the ANC using the most powerful democratic tool of all: the vote. South Africans are going to have to stop relying on Ramaphosa and start relying on their vote to make South Africa a good place for all of us to live in.

Warm regards

John Steenhuisen

DA leader