Let's Think

Very view angels left, South Africa in moral crisis

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As the sun is setting on it, the year 2017 will be remembered as one of extreme turmoil on many fronts in South Africa, and above all, one that left very view angels standing.

It was a year riddled by scandal-upon-scandal, punctuated by senior functionary-upon-functionary, and institution-upon-institution failing in their duties and then refusing to accept responsibility while engaging in the game of buck-passing.

The first part of the year was dominated by news of so-called state capture under the watch of President Jacob Zuma and the role played in it by the Gupta-family and the associates that got sucked in.

And, as we entered the final three weeks of the year, a Pretoria High Court judgement suddenly rivalled the ANC’s upcoming elective conference for centre stage on the news scene. A full bench set aside President Jacob Zuma's appointment of Shaun Abrahams as head of the National Directorate of Public Prosecution (NDPP).

To our mind, the two most telling quotes from that judgement are:

  • In the first instance, referring to previous court judgements, it stated that "The judgments that questioned the integrity of advocates [Nomgcobo] Jiba, [Lawrence] Mrwebi and [Sibongile] Mzinyathi were judgments of the High Court and advocate Abrahams should not have questioned, but should instead have acted on their result"; and in the second instance
  • “… there is the broader pattern of the president’s conduct in litigation, of defending what ultimately turns out - on the president’s own concession – to have been the indefensible all along, banking on any advantage that the passage of the time may bring. This pattern has played out in well publicised cases in the courts and would be naive to ignore. We refer here particularly to the Nkandla case and the spy tapes case."

And, in the latter instance there was an immediate repeat performance by President Zuma, declaring that he would also take this latest judgement on appeal – making the remedial action ordered by the court impossible. In short it would not be possible for Deputy-President Cyril Ramaphosa to appoint a new director of the NDPP within 60 days, as ordered.

In fact, it can be expected that, true to the pattern thus far, the matter will end-up in the Constitutional Court – effectively postponing its conclusion until Mr Zuma’s term in office ends in about 18 months’ time with the general election in 2019.

Flaw in the constitutional system?

Against this back ground, one has to agree with political analyst Ralph Mathekga, arguing that the re-occurrence of this tactic by Mr Zuma should raise serious questions: "The question is whether these challenges can be attributed to Zuma the person and his leadership style or do they go beyond him?"

The time has probably come to re-visit some of the constitutional powers given to the president and the oversight that Parliament could/should have in the making of key appointments in the execution of state power.

The mere fact that the ANC, as the present governing party found it prudent to also declare that it is considering appealing the judgement, claiming that the president does not personally make the decision, but share responsibility with the cabinet – which serves at his behest – defies logic.

Wider problems

When the wider culture of corruption that is prevailing in South Africa is considered, it would, however, be a gross misrepresentation of reality to just point the finger at the Zupta-way, or even the broader political theatre and/or the ANC for allowing the capture of the state and its institutions.

In the closing stages of the year the biggest, South African based, company in Africa, Naspers became entangled in the state capture activities of one of its own subsidiaries, MultiChoice.

And, as has become the standard with cabinet ministers when departments or institutions come under crossfire, Naspers’ chair Koos Bekker refused to accept final responsibility. He passed the buck to MultiChoice, which will investigate itself. Fact is, however, Naspers is MultiChoice’s only shareholder.   

When protectors turn perpetrators

How deep the crisis surrounding corruption has become was illustrated last week at a panel discussion of prominent South Africans from business, academia and the media convened at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

The chief executive of IQbusiness, Adam Craker, said at the occasion that the state capture project has been enabled by organisations that were previously held in high regard. “Audit and legal firms clearly overstepped the line. But this is not only a local issue and it would be foolish to think their actions are restricted to this region,” he said.

Chairperson of Massmart, Kuseni Dlamini, said corruption was on an “industrial scale. We should all be ashamed that it happened in our midst.”

In the meantime, details of the involvement in corrupt activities of a former acting police commissioner, Khomotso Phahlane are also emerging.

And, as almost always, there is also private sector involvement in the alleged corruption.

We think

When the clock strikes twelve, it will only be the number attached to the year that is going to change, the realities of 2017 and all the noise going with it, will not only remain the same, but is likely to intensify.

Fact is, South Africa is in the grips of a deep moral crisis and the judiciary and some members of the truly independent media are just about the only ones that can enter 2018 with their heads held high.

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by Piet Coetzer

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