Sona 2022: From Thuma Mina to Mea Culpa, South Africa needs an honest and pragmatic meritocracy

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Chapter 9, General | 0 comments

By Paul Hoffman Follow 11 Feb 2022

Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now.

Instead of dealing with the country’s culture of corruption, President Cyril Ramaphosa prefers to delay, deflect, defer and duck responsibility for cleaning up the mess made both before and since he took office.

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The State of the Nation Address (Sona) delivered ponderously over nearly two hours on 10 February 2022 amounts to no more than an exercise in kicking the can down the road. The prevarication is because the ANC-led alliance remains paralysed by infighting in the run-up to internal elections in December.

The president rightly acknowledged that the economy cannot possibly be fixed until corruption is addressed and then contradictorily put off doing anything about corruption until at least the end of June this year. This dilly-dally approach may serve ANC unity, but it is prejudicial to getting the country out of the hole that it is in due to the phenomena of State Capture, “covidpreneurism”, ongoing serious corruption and the effect of the pandemic on lives and livelihoods.

Despite the fact that the president has been expressly asked to deal with the appropriate response to the culture of corruption with impunity across the land, he prefers to delay, deflect, defer and duck responsibility for cleaning up the mess made both before and since he took office in February 2018, after serving as deputy to his predecessor and was chair of the cadre deployment committee in Luthuli House.

The much anticipated BIG, or Basic Income Grant, has also been kicked into touch. Instead, the Covid-related R350 per month will last until March next year, by which time another Sona will have been delivered.

The performance of the president was both underwhelming and disappointing. He did man up and accept responsibility for the grossly inadequate response to the attempted insurrection of July 2021, a guilty plea he could hardly avoid in the light of the conclusions of the panel of experts he appointed and who reported to him last November.

It is lamentable that the electricity outages persist, that the delivery of services is ever more patchy and that there is a shortage of 2,500 schools in the country.

Fiscal constraints are hardly an appropriate excuse when so little is done to rake back the R1.5-trillion in loot that was extracted from the economy by those involved in State Capture, many of them in his party and even in his Cabinet. The recovery of the loot could finance a great deal of activity sorely needed to address hunger, poverty, joblessness and inequality in the land. Instead, platitudes about more compacts and economic summits (prior to addressing corruption) with no clear leadership in evidence.

The ANC is not blind to the effect the paralysis is having on its electability. Yet, its efforts, and those of others concerned about the effect of corruption on the downward trajectory of the fortunes of the country, are met with a new “fusion centre”, one which will not have any greater capacity than the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT) that preceded it. The ACTT failed and so will the fusion centre in the absence of the radical reform of the criminal justice administration that is required.

A direct request that Ramaphosa deal with the following developments was essentially ignored, or, at best, kicked into touch during the Sona:

  • The resolution of the NEC of the ANC announced on 4 August 2020 in which Cabinet was urgently instructed to establish a new, permanent, specialised and independent anti-corruption entity
  • The draft legislation and constitutional amendment proffered by Accountability Now in August 2021 that put flesh on the bones of the ANC resolution in a way that seeks to be constitutionally compliant by recognising the binding nature of the majority judgment in the 2011 Glenister case.
  • The efforts of the DA to prepare a private members bill that addresses the shortcomings of the Hawks who are supposed to investigate serious corruption, but never have.
  • The recommendations of the State Capture Commission (SCC) as regards the need to counter corruption in the procurement field. (Let’s all pray that a recommendation to end cadre deployment in the public service and SOEs will follow in the third tranche of the SCC report due at the end of February 2022]

Now that Helen Zille’s Singaporean tweets have received the imprimatur of the Supreme Court of Appeal, it is surely time to look afresh at the point she was ham-fistedly trying to make with her thumbs.

Singapore was an impoverished swamp in the sixties at a time when SA was an economically thriving country, albeit under the apartheid regime. Today Singapore is a leading country in the world, a turnaround achieved without mineral wealth or other natural resources.

While it is true that governance in Singapore has blind spots when it comes to freedom of expression, the country works and the unemployment rate is around 5%. The Singaporeans have retained capital punishment and even caning for men under 50 years of age, punishments long gone in SA.

Singapore also has a somewhat tricky relationship with chewing gum. Nevertheless, the country is safe and secure; everything works smoothly, neatly and cleanly. A multiplicity of cultures and religions are peacefully accommodated.

SA languishes near the bottom of the table on most metrics as was pointed out by Mark Heywood here in his most recent editorial in Maverick Citizen. South Africa:

  • is ranked 114th (out of 189 countries) on the 2020 Human Development Index published annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP);
  • is one of the world’s most unequal countries [where] the highest 10% of income earners capture more than 65% of total South African income, while the poorest 50% only get 5% of it.” (According to the 2022 World Inequality Report, published by the World Inequality Lab)
  • is a country where “the richest South Africans have wealth levels broadly comparable with those of rich Western Europeans, the poorest half of the population owns no wealth at all.” This is borne out by research by Sharlene Swartz of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) who demonstrates that “when ranking population groups against other countries, Black African South Africans rank 142nd, Coloured South Africans 120th, Indian South Africans 53rd, and White South Africans 15th.”
  • Is ranked 52nd out of 139 countries in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index (2021) and 70th out of 180 countries on its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (by Transparency International).

When asked for the recipe for their success, Singaporeans are wont to point out that it has been achieved by making appointments in government and the public service strictly on merit; by honesty in the state and in the private sector and by being pragmatic on questions of identifying a guiding ideology.

In short, honesty, pragmatism and meritocracy have lifted Singapore to where it is now from its swampy beginnings when it was liberated from the yoke of colonialism in 1965.

In SA today, appointments are decided upon in secret at Luthuli House when its cadre deployment committees meet to select the loyal comrades whose task it is to pursue their national democratic revolution (NDR). The comrades have to be ANC members or supporters, their capacity, competence and qualifications are only incidental considerations in the appointment processes, hijacked by a private political party from the institutions of state whose task it is to make appointments.

The latter, in terms of the Constitution, are obliged to cultivate good human resource management and career development practices to maximise human potential. Cadre deployment ensures that this principle is honoured in the breach. The bright line between party and state is all but rubbed out by dogged cadre deployment, a practice the president pleaded to retain when he gave his evidence before Justice Zondo. As a trained lawyer, the president should know that the high court has declared cadre deployment as invalid, unconstitutional and illegal.

Cadre deployment in the public service and SOEs must end if the rule of law means anything in SA today. Yet the president did not mention this pernicious practice during his Sona. Instead, while flouting its terms, he praised the Constitution as the “best in the world” with the lip service that conceals his attachment to the NDR.

Honesty in governance is in short supply. The ANC jealously guards its cadre deployment documentation with a view to keeping its secrets. This is hardly open, accountable and responsive governance that is required in law. The limited documentation made public via the State Capture Commission does not paint a pretty picture. Even judges are “recommended” (NDR code for nominated) by Luthuli House, a task which is hardly the business of any political party acting alone in a smoke-filled back room of its headquarters.

It is public knowledge, from a leaked recording that has been admitted, that the president is aware of his party stealing public funds to finance the political ambitions of its members. Not a word about this in Sona.

Despite being obliged to report this criminality to the police, he has not done so, or if he has, he is keeping mum about it. On the contrary, the president is recorded as saying he is prepared to fall on his sword rather than snitch on his comrades. When dishonesty of this magnitude is in plain sight at the top of the leadership, it tends to permeate its way down to manifest in grossly immoral covidpreneurism, State Capture, kleptocracy and serious corruption. All of these activities involve dishonesty.

The State Capture Commission report reveals that dishonest conduct is rife in government and in the SOEs. In every crooked tender there is at least one private sector player, also indulging greed rather than behaving honourably. The notion of entering the public service to serve the public weal seems to have passed the ANC by. Self-enrichment is the order of the day.

As for the pragmatism for which Singapore is famous: the hidebound and outdated ideology of the ANC is the failed ideology of Lenin. He regarded the situation in SA as “colonialism of a special kind” and fashioned the principles of the NDR with a view to securing “hegemonic control of all levers of power in society” as the main revolutionary aim.

This objective is inconsistent with constitutional democracy under the rule of law in a multi-party system of governance in which the independence of the judiciary and the media are guaranteed. The separation of powers and the checks and balances on the exercise of power spelt out in the Constitution and by the Constitutional Court are concepts quite foreign to the revolutionaries hiding in plain sight in the corridors of power in SA. Media freedom is not on Lenin’s radar.

The recent decision of Lindiwe Sisulu to come out of hiding in plain sight in the national Cabinet to debunk the rule of law and denigrate the Constitution while making insulting and offensive remarks about the judiciary “in her personal capacity” has been widely criticised by the constitutionalists of the land, some of whom are to be found within the ANC itself and include her Cabinet colleague, Ronald Lamola, the minister of justice. Not a word on this intra-Cabinet insurrection by Sisulu in Sona. Her conduct strikes at the heart of the state of the nation; but it is just not dealt with by the president.

Between the pursuit of the goals of their revolution, the dishonesty involved in paying lip service to binding constitutional values and the excesses of cadre deployment, the ANC has made a complete hash of implementing the binding requirements of the Constitution. In particular, the duty to respect and protect human rights as enumerated in the Bill of Rights has not been fulfilled.

Governing by sleight of hand must be exhausting — the pretence of fealty to oaths of office is overlaid by revolutionary strivings that are effectively destroying the country like a plague of locusts on the platteland.

An honest and pragmatic meritocracy is needed now in SA. It is in no way, shape or form foreshadowed by Sona 2022. The dishonesty of the double allegiance to the revolution and the Constitution must end. The crookedness in corruption of all kinds must end now, whether in government, the public service, the SOEs or the private sector.

The more pragmatic approach to matters of ideology has succeeded in Singapore, also formerly a colony. There is no reason to cling to the outmoded and failed ideology of Lenin; even the Russians haven’t done so.

Merit-based appointments will get the country working again. Water in the taps, sewerage off streets, electricity available in uninterrupted supply, road and rail networks in good working order, an education system that no longer limps, a health service that cures the sick, appropriate social security and adequate access to housing are all achievable if the change is made and the loot of State Capture is recovered as it should and can be.

The Sona of 2022 provides naught for the comfort of those hoping for honesty, pragmatism and meritocracy. It is up to the people of SA to demand an end to the prevarication. Their rights under the Constitution have been trifled with and trampled for too long now.

If the ANC can’t end its attachment to the NDR, stop cadre deployment and clean up dishonesty in all its forms urgently (first step: reform of the criminal justice administration), then it is up to the electorate to end its attachment to the ANC. DM

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