Start main page content

Who governs?

- Susan Booysen

A week of telling snapshots of combat between capture and recovery. The Zondo Commission hearings go to the heart of the answer to this question.

Are the forces that counter state corruption and capture, effectively in charge, or will this commission follow in the footsteps of the Seriti Commission, the Farlam Commission, and many others that cloud optimism about commissions?

Are the “real colours” of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as commission chair showing in the even-handedness of the early days, and will he become a second Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who had risen above the early suspicions of former president Jacob Zuma having appointed and politically courted Mogoeng? Will Zondo rise above the roots of his appointment as deputy chief justice by Zuma and enact the spirit of the State of Capture report?

The metropolitan madness of constituting and reconstituting governing and opposition alliances goes equally to the heart of the “who governs?” question. Is it the latest ANC, or the determined DA alliance, that is ascendant in whichever South African metropole this week? The exact composition of the winning alliance in question was almost always dependent on the latest salvation quest of the EFF, plus a handful of questionable microparties like the African Independent Congress or Patriotic Alliance. Amid the clamour for municipal predominance the cries for clean and distributive governance, with the poor centre-stage, are abused to the point of becoming meaningless.

The ANC across several metropolitan fronts this week could very well be clambering back into power, accompanied by alliance partners that might help sweep combat against local-level corruption under the carpet.

How to Steal a City, the well-documented book on the battle for Nelson Mandela Bay in the days of ANC government, will be a distant reminder as new alliances grab the reins of power, which for lack of accountability might very well be shared with an emerging, new generation of “Guptas”.

The sounds of municipal musical chairs reverberate through provincial and national government. In the provinces, we know, it is largely the ANC that is in control. However, there are the pressing questions of which provincial ANC faction is calling the shots?

An ANC Mpumalanga delegation protested at Luthuli House this week against a Provincial Executive Committee that is being propped up by bogus branches. Several provinces have top-down constructed ANC faction alliances that are based on compromise and tolerance of corruption records. The possibly less implicated ones enter into deals with the incorrigibly corrupted ones. Fragile alliances rule.

Provincial governments take care of municipalities in several provinces. Placing municipalities under provincial administration is recognised for not being the answer – but alternatives are underdeveloped. The provincial governments responsible are often as capacity-compromised as their municipal charges.

The same applies, on multiple fronts, to national government taking care of provincial governments such as in North West. The identification of problems and pronouncements by the inter-ministerial committee for the North West team appear to be on target, but is there going to be an effect on the ground, in reasonable time, and while the Supra Mahumapelo fightback unfolds?

The Zondo Commission has already delivered damning evidence of procurement processes that are in deep, deep trouble … at the heart of national government. Until these issues are addressed definitively, ifit happens, those who are trying to get South Africa to a state of recovery will continue to be surrounded and at times subverted.

The effort to recover will in no small measure be aided by an effective Zondo Commission. So, will the commission emerge to place the legal seal on the pre-existing avalanche of credible investigative reports and e-mail spillings?

While “Zondo” happens, President Cyril Ramaphosa issues repeated pledges that his government will go after the captured ones and will eradicate corruption. This while the media bulges weekly with factional, leaked reports on fightback actions against Ramaphosa, conducted by the deposed and other threatened ones. They claim to be planning revenge against Ramaphosa at the next ANC National General Council, set to unfold around mid-2020. This is possibly more bark than bite, except that on-the-ground ANC structures scheme along the lines of old and new factions (sometimes in peculiar new mutations) for control of both the 2019 party candidate lists (to be prepared in a few months’ time) and ANC conference delegations to come.

It is these multi-event days in South Africa, with political drama unfolding across many stages simultaneously, that are the time of really deciding the country’s future. The balances emerging from the Zondo Commission and fluid control over governments at all levels are working their ways to deliver the yet undetermined future.

Susan Booysen is a Professor in the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on the Daily Maverick.