by Hannes Wessels
The ANC passed a resolution some months back which stated that members who have criminal cases should step down from their positions to avoid conflict and to protect the integrity of the ruling party. Adding muscle to this new-found sense of moral rectitude, President Ramaphosa went on the record recently talking boldly of drawing a ‘line in the sand’ on corruption, while rejecting party unity as an excuse for inaction on this cancer that is impoverishing the country. With the Ace Magashule issue looming large in the public consciousness this rhetoric raised hopes that a break with an unsavoury past was underway.
A thoroughly researched book, ‘Gangster State’ by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, has been written about Magashule containing a plethora of allegations and as far as I know, nothing contained therein, has been seriously challenged so one can only assume Myburgh has his facts straight.
After much dithering, Magashule was arrested in November for his role in the Free State R255m asbestos scandal which unfolded while he was the provincial premier. In the papers presented to the court he is alleged to have received payments from murdered businessman Ignatius Mpambani, the owner of one of the companies awarded the corrupt asbestos contract. He also allegedly failed to report corrupt transactions, it said.
However, once again Ramaphosa’s stated intention to clean house, appears to have been hot air. “We have not torn ourselves apart,” says the president, “the unity of the ANC is paramount if we are to lead the radical transformation of our society and our economy”.
So keeping the cadres happy while working out how to fix what was not broken takes priority over the rule of law. The ANC’s response to Magashule’s behaviour is to invite him to appear before the Integrity Committee which must have him trembling in his shiny Italian shoes because nobody appears to pay any attentions to its rulings.
An important precedent was set in 2017 when former president Jacob Zuma was told to resign by the Committee and refused to do so. It is now 17 years since charges were first levelled against Zuma and further postponements are in play. The chances of him ever going on trial, let alone being punished for his alleged misconduct, appear slim.
A mountain of evidence under oath has been produced in the course of investigations conducted under the aegis of the Zondo Commissions. For any serious prosecution service this would be manna from heaven and culprits named brought to trial but nothing of the sort has happened. National Director of Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, in office now for two years, is rarely heard from apart from when she reports her department is understaffed and underfunded.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane seems to have spent most of her tenure squandering vast amounts of public money defending herself against charges of gross incompetence and abhorrent behaviour detrimental to the office and the State. A recent High Court judgement looking into matters surrounding her actions regarding the SARS investigators during Pravin Gordhan’s time as head of the Service, found she acted in bad faith to advance the political interests of those who promoted “the false rogue unit narrative”. They found that Mkhwebane’s conclusions were ‘the product of a wholly irrational process, bereft of any sound legal or factual basis’.
The sum of all the above is that the country is gripped by state sanctioned lawlessness where those with power and their associates are seemingly immune from prosecution. The effects of this are being seen on a daily basis as towns and cities around the country have collapsed or are collapsing under the weight of corruption and gross incompetence. The president’s decision to give Magashule a pass and the tepid behaviour of the NPA is a sad sign there will be no relief from this quagmire.
When the new South Africa came into being with the swearing in of Nelson Mandela in May 1994 the people of all races were euphoric; not only were they blessed with a leader preaching forgiveness and unity, but the country boasted what many proclaimed to be the ‘finest constitution’ in the world. It was his faith in this document that prompted former President FW de Klerk to assure those that had resisted and feared change, that all would be well because of the safeguards contained therein.
Subsequent events provide salient and sad testimony to the fact that a constitution and the high-minded laws that go along with it, are only as effective and conducive to the public good as those tasked with enforcing and protecting its provisions. Unfortunately those people have not measured up to their obligations and we are virtually all the worse for it.
Against this backdrop our president tells us in the gravest of tones that our greatest challenge ahead is in fact dealing with the Covid-19 infection. As a chronic sufferer from Covid-19 scepticism I note this while learning of the banning from the air-waves of yet another well-informed and qualified scientist who dissents from the conventional view that this is a plague with extremely dangerous implications for all of humanity. Professor Michael Levitt, a Stanford professor who won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 2013, with special expertise in computational biology and bio-design is in awful trouble for saying that he believes the threat from the virus is overblown and that “we’re going to be fine.”
I’m left hoping the president is right and all we have to worry about is the virus and not the way he governs. If that is indeed the case, then the future is brimful of promise.