Constitutional Watch

Hurricane Zupta might not be the last political storm


The South African constitution has weathered a hurricane called Zupta quite well, but is not out of danger yet by a long shot.

The ’cold front’ that caused the storm is still in place and, unless properly addressed there is no guarantee that a similar storm will not hit the country again sometime in the future.

While the new president of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa has already tackled the massive task of cleaning up the mess of the destruction in the national household left behind by hurricane Zupta, the original danger, which triggered the storm, state capture by a political party and morphed into capture by a crony cabal is still firmly in place.

One just must contemplate what could have happened if Mr. Ramaphosa did not win the ANC’s leadership election in December – and as it is, it was an uncomfortably close shave – to understand how serious a danger this threat is.

And, there is no way of knowing that there will be a Ramaphosa around when the next storm comes around.

It took a Ramaphosa to appear on centre stage for the police’s special investigative unit, the Hawks, to finally spring into action, and to in earnest, chase down some of the looting state captures.


Luckily one of the strong bastions of the country’s constitution, its facilitating of an independent media and civil society organisations have already done much of the work that should have been delivered by an independent law enforcement arm. Much of the evidence surrounding the Estina dairy project at Vrede in the Free State was already in the bag, highlighted in an article by Sam Sole of AmaBhingane – making the statement that “No political party is a substitute for independent institutions.”

He lays his finger on the main cause of the hurricane Zupta: “Throughout its rule, the ANC has tried to create a parallel government, in which deployed cadres are expected to adhere to separate reporting lines through party barons and brokers.”

Through this storm the independent judiciary also did itself and the country proud and delivered an immeasurable service to the people of the country to counter balance the massive concentration of power in the hands of the executive, and by implication the political party that put them in those positions.

At other levels, and especially at the level of state administration, there too much of a gab for political influence, or even interference.

 But, too often the proper functioning of our constitutional construct of checks and balanced depend on the quality of individuals that are placed in key positions by a process that is open to political interference. In this regard one just has to consider the position in which the present occupant of the office of the Public Protector finds herself.

On the other hand, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which seems to have survived the onslaught on it during the final phase of Hurricane Zupta, has just open another window on the dangerous results when party politics and normal state functions become mixed.           

It this week reported to parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) how a former SAPS captain Morris "KGB" Tshabalala remained employed by the police after serving only a fraction of a 10-year prison sentence for robbery.

It came to IPID's attention that Tshabalala in 2012, while being head of the Rapid Deployment Intelligence (RDI) unit, used some of its R50m budget to allegedly buy votes at the ANC's 53rd elective conference in Mangaung.

Time to reflect

In May 2017 we wrote: “There is a cancerous tumour present in the South African body-politics and, if not treated properly and expeditiously, it could cause multi- state organ failure, with vital ones like parliament, security structures, and state enterprises already desperately under-performing.

“The name of that tumour is ‘state capture,’ of which the relationship between the Gupta family and key figures in, and around, state structures is but a symptom or a secondary malignant growth.

“The primary tumour is party-political state capture, at this stage, in the hands of a faction of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).”

We’ve just seen the grip of that faction on state power broken, however, as things stand there is no reason to know for sure it will never happen again and we repeat the words from an article by constitutional expert Pierre de Vos: “There are many reasons why real political power in South Africa largely lies with political parties and not with the democratically elected members of the legislature.

“The electoral system (which strengthens parties vis-à-vis democratic constitutional institutions like Parliament) and, the strict party discipline imposed by political parties on their elected MPs, are partly to blame for the fact that most politically important decisions are not taken by Parliament (except in a formal sense) but are rather taken by party leaders who were never elected into their political party positions by South Africa’s 20 million voters.”

Now, on almost the eve of the next general election, it might not be the right time, but considering his history with the present constitution, it might be a good time for President Ramaphosa to promise that he will, if re-elected, take the initiative to get a process going to revisit some elements of the constitution.

It should be made possible for South Africans to say about Hurricane Zupta: Never again!  

by Itelligence Bulletin Team

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