Previously silent Ramaphosa opens up on Zuptas, “state capture” strategy

In his weekly commentary, parliamentary expert Donwald Pressly shoots his arrow at Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Pressly says Ramaphosa has been disappointingly quiet on major public issues since his election as African National Congress deputy president in 2012. But all this seems to have changed, and in the last few days, he has begun to voice his concerns about major policy issues, including what he calls “state capture”. That’s another word for parasitis. Yet another excellent contribution from Pressly, well worth a read. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

After years of sitting on the political fence – since his election as deputy president of the ANC under Jacob Zuma’s presidency – Cyril Ramaphosa has at last spoken out. Albeit in a labyrinthine way. Instead of mentioning the Gupta family directly and their close relationship with Zuma, he has spoken about “state capture”. It is political speak, but at last he has said something significant about corruption at the top.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa attends the 20th Nedlac Annual Summit at the CSIR Convention Center in Pretoria, Gauteng Province. 11/09/2015.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa attends the 20th Nedlac Annual Summit at the CSIR Convention Center in Pretoria, Gauteng Province.

At The New Age (TNA) breakfast – itself an extremely dodgy operation owned by the Gupta family which receives millions in state largesse through advertising and sponsorship each year (as does its ANN7 television channel) – Cyril Ramaphosa was asked a pretty sweetheart question by the SABC programme co-ordinator about the Guptas. He was asked about “the role that the Guptas are playing in this country … and your views on that?” He answered: “The president addressed this issue when you actually asked him the last time yourself… it always revolve(s) around the president. The question has always been: the president and you and the Guptas.

The president has explained that, yes, he as a person has a relationship with them. He gave that explanation. The Gupta family has invested in this country… in newspapers, computers and other economic activities. They continue to operate in that way. Where they will interface with government… just like in any other corporation any other company. That is how they need to be analysed, examined in terms of whether they meet all the requirements that any company in the country will need to meet… in terms of a contract, a tender. That is the type of relationship that we expect any company to have with government. It must be at arms length, it must be based on proper corporate regulations… based on principle. Proper government procedures. That is what we should use as the litmus test…. We should use that to judge whether things are being done properly or not. As for the president… he has explained… and we have accepted that explanation.”

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Capturing double speak

That pretty much captures double speak. In the Sunday Times last Sunday, however, he was a little less cagey. He acknowledged that there was a strong perception in the business world that “state capture” by politically connected individuals for their personal gain was endemic. “State capture is a phenomenon that should not exist, quite frankly. One of the processes we would want our state-owned enterprises to be involved in is to have really squeaky clean and outstanding corporate governance processes where, if any corporation does business with a state-owned enterprise, it is on an arm’s length basis.” He continued: “It must be done in adherence to the highest corporate governance principles and it must be done transparently and in a way where there is no conflict of interest.” Significantly too he said rooting out parasitic capitalism – he did not call it that – was what the business world wanted: “Everyone wants that.”

Significantly Zuma announced Ramaphosa would lead the implementation of a series of recommendations put forward by the presidential review commission on parastatals. The aim is to turn the parastatals around. That is likely to see partial privatisation and public private partnership’s emerging, but it is not expected that this will be on any significant scale.

Read also: Cees Bruggemans: SA’s slippery slope, 9-point plan to nowhere – ‘regruk’ Ramaphosa?

Addressing a Japanese federation of economic organisations, Keidanren in Cape Town on Tuesday morning – 16 February – Ramaphosa noted that Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems had contributed to new electrical capacity by bringing Medupi  6 on line. He failed to mention that this deal was shrouded in political controversy as Chancellor House – the ANC’s business arm – had a hand in the Eskom Medupi Hitachi deal. But then one can’t say certain things when one is making a political speech, can one?

It is hard to know what is happening in the inner circles of the ANC. Ramaphosa clearly had a hand in getting Pravin Gordhan re-appointed as Finance Minister in December last year after Zuma’s Des van Rooyen debacle. (Van Rooyen apparently had Gupta advisers at his political knee). The fiscally prudent executive members including Ramaphosa and Gordhan and the treasury team now have significantly more political and fiscal clout. They gain political traction as President Jacob Zuma’s influence in the ANC ebbs. Whether Ramaphosa’s new political relevance as oversight man on the parastatals means he will ultimately be elected president – of both the ANC and the country – one day remains to be seen. But little by little, he is getting off the political fence after years of saying far too little about things that matter.

  • Donwald Pressly is Editor of Cape Messenger, an online site focused on Western Cape business-related news. He has corresponded from parliament for 23 years. He is also secretary general of the Cape Town Press Club.