2017 Overview

Year ended worse than predicted

Sarafina Zuma?
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The year 2017 turned out worse than predicted, and despite some positive signs, on most domestic, and global fronts, things seem set to become worse in the year ahead before it will improve.

In our first edition of the year, reporting on the African National Congress’ traditional ‘8 January Statement,’ we wrote that “2017 (is) shaping up to become Sarafina III.”

Sarafina II was a government-sponsored musical supposed to carry an anti-Aids message to the illiterate and especially to the youth. But it also went to Broadway and cost $4 million or around R60 million in terms of the present exchange rate.

It became the ANC’s first scandal, barely a year after it came to power as the dominant party in what was then the government of national unity.

And, if one is the superstitious type, looking at the high drama of the closing weeks of 2017, you might be inclined to think the surname is jinxed, or something. Not only, judging from archive material, does Sarafina II looks very much like a template for what happened since in a series of scandals involving President Jacob Zuma, his friends, and family – from lies by a member of the executive to parliament to a rigged tender process and a negative report by the then Public Protector (PP) Selby Baqwa, but again, like she did during the period 1995 to 1997, then then minister of health in the Mandela cabinet, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was  centre stage in the final political drama of 2017.

Repeat performances

As scandal-after-scandal became known during the course of 2017, with corruption and state capture becoming the all dominant themes in political news, there were some repeat performances this year from the Sarafina II drama. For example, late in 1995 Dr Dlamini-Zuma and director-general Olive Shisana had refused to attend a public hearing of the relevant parliamentary portfolio committee, which then had to be postponed to early 1996.

And, to think that the failure of the ANC to hold those responsible to ensure clean administration, accountable when things goes wrong, should all be put on the account of the Zuma administration, is wrong. In fact, this failure has just about become part of ANC culture.

Despite Dr Dlamini-Zuma and her director general snubbing parliament, in the end, the ANC supported the minister, who remained unapologetic, and then President Mandela, after the PP’s report, in a statement issued on his behalf by at the then deputy president Thabo Mbeki, commended the minister “for the steps she has taken and will take to rectify errors identified in the report.”

Much wider problem

In that same edition of The Intelligence Bulletin, in a so-called ‘pre-view’ of 2017 we wrote: “Both South Africa and the bigger world were in the midst of fundamental transition phases on many fronts as 2016 ended. They remained there, came sunrise on 1 January 2017. Don’t expect the general news agenda to change much any time soon.”

We, however, under-estimated to what extent that agenda would explode to reveal the extent to which fault lines in governance structures, both domestically, and globally have not only facilitated corruption, state capture, but exposed private sector corruption and governance failure.

On this front South Africa can actually pride itself in the role it’s free-, and independent media, it judiciary and organised civil society played.

During the course of the year, the infectious dangers of state-corruption and -capture became clear when international companies and firms like KPMG, SAP and McKinsey got caught-up in the state capture scandal surrounding the Gupta-brothers and President Zuma, his family and patronage network.

The real shock came late in the year when first Naspers and its full subsidiary MultiChoice were exposed for having become involved in the corruption associated with the Gupta state capture network to protect its own monopoly in subscription television. This was followed by the Steinhoff scandal with allegations that the huge South African based retail group, Steinhoff manipulated its share value.

Also Read: Warning: Steinhoff scandal is ‘tip of iceberg’

Again, South Africa can pride itself in the fact that the way in which the role that so-called “reputational firm” Bell-Pottinger played was exposed so thoroughly, that it has led to the final demise of this British firm with a long history of managing controversial public relations campaigns.

 Looking ahead

At the time of writing the ANC’s elective conference was still locked up in a dispute about the counting of the votes in the election of its so-called top-six members of its 86-strong national executive committee.

Several final outcomes were still possible, including possible legal action by one, or more factions in the party.

Short of a recall of President Zuma from his ‘deployment’ as president of the country, it is way too early to expect that the president-elect of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa will be able to start implementing his vision for the future of the country.

If Zuma stays on as president of the country until the general election in 2019, against the background of the tension that has developed around the leadership election, state capture- and corruption allegations, the competition between two centres of power, as in state and party, could become an uncomfortable reality. Come to think of it, Zuma has the power to dismiss Mr. Ramaphosa as his deputy.

There are a number of court cases and legal actions involving Mr. Zuma that are still outstanding, with some deadlines coming up as soon as the second half of January; will Mr Zuma and the new leader be able to fully consult with regards to the 8 January 2018 Statement?; then there is the opening of parliament early February and the possibility of another motion no-confidence in the President.

Don’t expect the agenda to calm down any time soon, or to change all that much early in the new year.

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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