South Africa Watch

Quo Vadis as post-Zuma South Africa takes shape?

Zuma.jpg

Some of the details are still up in the air, but as the Zuma era is ending, one thing is sure – it will leave South Africa in a mess.

As the thick dust, caused by the wrecking ball called “Zupta,” blurs one’s vision, predictions about the future of South Africa (SA) can be little more than informed guess work.

For one, it is not even possible to, beyond all doubt, say that President Jacob Zuma’s dominant presence on the SA political scene, one way or another, will end with a general election in 2019. Some commentators are becoming concerned that, deliberately engineered, or caused by the disintegration of the ANC, a national crisis might cause the postponement of the 2019 election.

As things stand at present, in the face of intensifying internal ANC battles, its December elective conference might be postponed, might be a real possibility.

Does one need to say more after the ANC headquarters found it necessary this week to put a prohibition on any provincial-, or regional conferences after 30 September. 

If truly democratic processes are allowed to play themselves out, the ‘post-Zuma era’ could also become the post-ANC era. There are, however, so many factors at play at present that confusion is the order of the day.

However, not all is negative, as South African civil society once again is demonstrating its resilience, new potential architects and builders of a reconstruction process, and leadership groups seem to be emerging. Some foundations on which a new future can be built, remain visible in the dust cloud of the moment.

What Zuma leaves behind

Not only is Mr Zuma leaving behind a governing party in disarray, torn apart by internal factional battles, which by all accounts has already cost lives, but also a country threatened by disintegration on many fronts.

State administration: ANC cadre deployment, and the state capture that followed in its wake, have seriously eroded the quality of, and professionalism of, the country’s bureaucracy. Even the ANC’s own secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, recently found it necessary to condemn the use of state resources for political purposes.

Most dangerous, is how this state of affairs is playing out in state security structures, not only on the domestic political scene, but also in terms of actual state security.

The Mail & Guardian recently reported how the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) covert support unit – set up to fight terrorism and organised crime – is allegedly being used to target President Jacob Zuma’s political opponents.

Some elements of the damage are also evident in a statement by ex-minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, in his reaction to international audit firm KPMG’s admittance to being sucked in by state capture. He refers to “their role in the ‘capture’ of the revenue service and the huge damage that it has done to the livelihoods and reputations of a very professional, honest and loyal group of public servants.”

Social stability: Under the Zuma-administration hardly a day goes by without some violent protest action somewhere about something that are not working for a group of citizens and leaves them in a state of despair.

The list of victims grows day by day while each day also brings new revelations of members of the power elite involved in corruption and lining their own pockets to the tune om many millions at the expense of the tax payer and ordinary citizens.

At the same time the lack of government at various levels to come to grips with the phenomenon of rapid urbanisation is tearing the country’s social fabric apart.

Economy: South African corporations are reportedly sitting on mountains of cash reserves while the country is experiencing an investment winter in the face of low confidence levels, and policy uncertainties reflected in credit downgrades or threatening further downgrades.

The state of state owned enterprises, like South African Airways, cast a permanent cloud over state resources.

And, while policy-upon-policy programmes for development, like the National Development Plan, remains little more than words on paper, unemployment figures keep growing at an alarming faster rate than job opportunities.

And again, government corruption via state capture seems to be one of the main culprits. The Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel (nogal) recently said corruption is costing the SA gross domestic product (GDP) at least R27bn annually as well as the loss of 76,000 jobs that would otherwise have been created.

 Also on this front the inability to come to grips with rapid urbanisation, and too narrow an ideological approach to land distribution, and -rights is hampering economic transformation. (Also read: Radical change in property rights needed for RET.)

The positive side

One could greatly expand on the list of negatives recorded above. However, for the sake of a balanced picture, are two further points to be made: South Africa is not alone in its battle against corruption, or even attempts at state capture, and there are also hopeful signs of a fight back by the South African society at large – even setting an international example for action.

On the first issue, the point is well illustrated by the fact that the United Kingdom’s prestigious company, Rolls-Royce, recently had to apologise at the UK’s high court after it was found to have paid bribes including a luxury car and millions of pounds’ worth of cash to middlemen to secure orders in no less than six countries: Indonesia, Russia, China, Thailand, India and Nigeria.

And, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), before taking legal action against KPMG to have it original report on an alleged ‘rouge unit in the organisation, should take note of some of the firm’s recent history.  

The big four accountancy firm, could face disciplinary action in the UK over its audit work for the collapsed bank HBOS, after a volte-face by the profession’s watchdog. 

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) was sharply criticised for its original refusal to launch a full investigation into KPMG, which signed off HBOS’s 2007 accounts and rated it a going concern – just months before the British Government brokered a rescue by Lloyds. And in 2005 it had to enter into a settlement with the US government over fraudulent tax shelters.

On the positive, the fight back, mainly due to initiatives from SA’s civil society, have already been some impressive international example setting results. Of these, the demise of Bell Pottinger, is the outstanding example thus far and now even KPMG does not seem to be too big to be out of reach for retaliation. And that fight is far from over while, besides ex-minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, other previous SARS senior officials who were victimised might join the fray with legal actions.

Gordhan seems to be emerging as one of the leading lights of the fight back, urging South Africans to keep themselves informed about what has been, and is, happening at institutions like electricity company Eskom.

Political front

It has been slow going on the political for for the intention of the constitution to, through its proportional elective system, to avoid the hegemonious domination that we have had until now by the ANC – something that lies at the root of many of our ills.

However, as the ANC is seemingly disintegrating, there are hopeful signs that coalitions can rise from the ashes of what the Zuma-administration is due to leave behind.

It will be a though ask, and might take several years, but there are enough building block for a decidedly better South African to arise from ruins of the Zupta era of our post 1994 history.

by Piet Coetzer

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