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Sona 2020 — is the driver half-asleep at the wheel?

The state of the nation address was all smoke and mirrors, lacking substance, that needed a good stir

15 February 2020 – 09:28 paul hoffman

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering his state of the nation address on February 13 2020. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

This is what President Cyril Ramaphosa said about countering grand corruption during the disrupted delivery of his state of the nation address (Sona) 2020:

“We will not let up in the fight against corruption and state capture.

We need to work together to root out corruption and strengthen the rule of law. 

We should not solicit or pay bribes or engage in corrupt acts. 

We should upgrade our culture of reporting crime when we see it being committed.

This battle can only succeed if it is taken on by the whole of society, if we build a formidable social compact of all formations.

We therefore welcome the work of the joint government and civil society working group charged with developing a national anti-corruption strategy and implementation plan, which is close to completion of this phase of its work.

We plan to launch the strategy by mid-year.

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture continues with its critical work with the full support of government and other institutions.

I have received a detailed and voluminous report on the commission of inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation. 

I will make it available to the public together with a plan on taking the findings and recommendations forward in a few days.”


That is the sum total of what was said by the president. While it may all be true and correct, it is not nearly enough to make this year the “Year of the Orange Overalls” as required by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba in his Christmas Eve sermon. There is too much smoke and mirrors and insufficient substance.

The government’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), a worthwhile exercise, cannot serve as a substitute for the sorely needed remedial legislation that must correct the excesses of the Jacob Zuma state-capture era. It’s plain that the closing down of the Scorpions, the hollowing out of the capacity of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the abuse of the Hawks to fight political battles against Sars and Pravin Gordhan, Glynnis Breytenbach and Gen Johan Booysen (to name a few) were all part of state capture.

To address the culture of impunity for acts of grand corruption in the land, it is necessary to pass corrective legislation that brings the institutions of state into line with the requirements laid down by our apex court in the Glenister litigation. These binding criteria for anti-corruption machinery of state were, for obvious reasons, ignored while Zuma’s hands were on the levers of power.

The requirements are known as the STIRS criteria in which:

  • S is for a specialised unit dedicated to investigating and prosecuting the corrupt.
  • T is for properly trained staff, which is equipped to do so.
  • I is for independence from political influence and               interference.
  • R is for guaranteed resources sufficient to the task.
  • S  is for security of tenure of office.

No sane student of the activities of the Hawks since 2014 believes that they are STIRS-compliant or capable of countering the corruption in the manner envisaged by the application of the of the STIRS criteria.

Even the government has no confidence in the ability of the Hawks to do their work. No big fish have been convicted in all the years that the Hawks have existed — they are more like Dodos in their ability to fly and just about as dead.

What is urgently needed is structural reform to address the shortcomings of which the leadership of the NPA and the Hawks complain. That is the work of parliament, not the NACS or civil society.

Nothing was stirring

Corruption is a crime of serious nature. The criminal justice administration is required to function in a way that protects the rights guaranteed to all in the bill of rights. All the efforts of a social compact against corruption will come to nothing if there is not a dedicated entity well able to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the crime of grand corruption “stirringly”.

Doing the job properly also involves clawing back the estimated trillion rand looted. Without those orange overalls duly issued to the convicted the culture of corruption with impunity, so embedded in SA, will sail on untouched by strategies that don’t include the reform of the captured, limping and ineffectual criminal justice administration.

Ramaphosa was asked last March to consider establishing a new Chapter 9 integrity commission for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting grand corruption. He found the idea “refreshing” and undertook to mull it over.

There is no evidence in Sona 2020 that he has done so. All efforts to move his administration in the right direction on this topic, including the preparation of draft laws available for all to see on the Glenister case page of the website of Accountability Now, have met with procrastination at best or disinterested paralysis at worst.

The president is like the driver of a large and well laden cargo truck. The cargo includes food for the starving, drugs for the sick, books for the schools, and mineral wealth for all neatly packaged in secure boxes. He does not notice a gang of looters on the back of the truck, some in his company’s uniform, throwing the boxes into the bushes on the side of the road as he drives along.

The question is whether he will wake up and stop the looting in time to save what’s left of the cargo for the people he leads or whether he will arrive at his destination without a cargo.

• Hoffman is a director of Accountability Now.

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