By Nompumelelo Runji
President Cyril Ramaphosa made public his response to the recommendations of the Zondo Commission on October 23 2022.
Top of mind for most South Africans was how the president would address the question of accountability for the crimes of fraud and corruption committed by individuals identified by the commission, and how he himself will atone for his role in enabling state capture.
As a build up to President Ramaphosa’s response, the Business Day Dialogues in association with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Accountability Now, held a discussion to identify the issues that the president and his government need to prioritise..
Lawson Naidoo, Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), identified two themes that require urgent attention; that of individual corporate liability which has to do with investigating prosecuting those implicated and that of attending to systemic weaknesses in the country’s governance.
These weaknesses include the role of parliament, additional support and protection for whistle blowers, the system of public procurement as well as ensuring that state owned entities are better managed.
Echoing these sentiments Adv. Glynnis Breytenbach, MP and DA Shadow Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, emphasised the need to capacitate law enforcement, the prosecution authorities, and correctional services by increasing their funding. This is important to enable them to get the required skills and amass the forensic capacity to deal with matters uncovered by the Zondo Commission.
Most importantly, the president needs to act. Adv. Breytenbach decried President Ramaphosa’s tendency to defer matters to advisory councils and high-level committees. And Paul Hoffman, SC Director & Head Projects at Accountability NOW described the president as a ditherer who prefers to kick for touch.
When it comes to accountability, Mr. Hoffman highlighted three interconnected aspects that require the president’s attention: 1) the illegal and unconstitutional practice of cadre deployment in the public administration and SOEs as found by the Eastern Cape High Court, 2) the need for an independent anticorruption institution that has security of tenure, and 3) electoral reform that ensures that members of parliament are accountable to citizens rather than to party bosses.
This is not just a matter of law, but also of politics. The Zondo Commission recommendations pose a serious risk to President Rampaphosa’s viability as leader of his party, the ANC, and as president of the Republic.
Ultimately, the South African public wants to see high level convictions. But cleaning out the rot in his party and cabinet will require the president to hold himself accountable by taking responsibility for his role in enabling state capture.
State capture happened during his tenure as deputy president of the country and during which he presided over his party’s cadre deployment committee, which the commission has fingered as a policy that gave rise to state capture.
The politics are difficult. President Ramaphosa, who is already proven to be risk averse, will not risk a cabinet shake-up a few months ahead of an ANC elective congress.
The arrest of high-level individuals such as former Minister Mosebenzi Zwane among others is encouraging. However, as Adv. Breytenbach pointed out, it is a long way to getting a conviction.
There are some encouraging developments in parliament. The Constitutional Review Committee is set to review the proposal to set up an anti-corruption body based on the STIRS (specialised, trained, independent, resourced, and secure) criteria set out in a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling. And the proposal to make this agency a chapter nine institution could insulate it from the whims of the executive by ensuring it accounts to parliament.
There might yet be hope for ending impunity for corruption and state capture.