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President Cyril Ramaphosa recently found himself at the Zondo Commission into State Capture, a commission that he had created, to answer questions about his alleged involvement in state capture while serving as deputy president to Jacob Zuma. While President Ramaphosa openly admitted that mistakes had been made during Zuma’s tenure as president, freelance journalist Ivo Vegter notes “he has been careful not to implicate specific people, or – heaven forbid! – himself.” Ramaphosa has served as deputy president of South Africa since 2014, before stepping up to replace Zuma. Vegter writes that “when Ramaphosa says the ANC would not knowingly accept bribes, the proceeds of crime, or money otherwise tainted by unethical conduct, he is mouthing principled words which flatly contradict the behaviour of party officials at all levels, including himself.” – Jarryd Neves
Ramaphosa: mistakes were made
By Ivo Vegter*
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in the hot seat at the Zondo Commission into State Capture, deftly but disingenuously acknowledges the failures of the African National Congress (ANC), without taking any responsibility for anything.
‘Mistakes were made’. So said Richard Nixon, in acknowledging wrongdoing by his own administration and election campaign. So said Ronald Reagan, about the Iran-Contra affair. So said Bill Clinton, regarding his party’s fundraising scandals. So said Senator John McCain about the Iraq War.
Asked by his interlocutor whether it isn’t the president’s failure as the commander in chief, McCain said: ‘Well, I – all of the responsibility lies in everybody in positions of responsibility. Serious mistakes are made in every war. Serious mistakes were made in this one, but I really believe that there is progress being made, that we can be guardedly optimistic but I think we have to understand that it’s very, very tough and hard.’
That was in 2005. The US still has troops in Iraq today, 16 years later.
‘The phrase sounds like a confession of error or even contrition, but in fact, it is not quite either one,’ wrote John M. Broder in the New York Times. ‘The speaker is not accepting personal responsibility or pointing the finger at anyone else.’
Ramaphosa at the Zondo Commission
So far, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s testimony to the Zondo Commission on State Capture consists mainly of variations on the ‘mistakes were made’ theme, carefully phrased in the past exonerative tense. He has been careful not to implicate specific people, or – heaven forbid! – himself.
Despite his undertaking to sweep clean, Ramaphosa is not exactly a new broom. He became deputy president of the ANC at the party’s Mangaung Conference in 2012, when party president Jacob Zuma needed ‘someone who could prop up Zuma’s flagging leadership’.
He was appointed Deputy President of South Africa in 2014, and was made Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly, chairman of the National Planning Commission, and leader of the Eskom War Room. He was already chairman of the ANC Deployment Committee at the time.
So when he says that some officials deployed to official positions within state-owned enterprises ‘may not be fit for purpose’, or lacked the required qualifications, he was personally part of those decisions.
ANC’s guiding principles
When he makes statements about the ANC’s guiding principles and policies, such as a non-partisan civil service based on competence and professionalism, he is talking about theory, not practice. In the practice of it, leading to deep-rooted organisational failures and widespread corruption, he was intimately involved.
When Ramaphosa says the ANC would not knowingly accept bribes, the proceeds of crime, or money otherwise tainted by unethical conduct, he is mouthing principled words which flatly contradict the behaviour of party officials at all levels, including himself.
His claim that the ANC has always opposed corruption borders on the delusional. There are mountains of evidence that the ANC-run government and its state-owned enterprises have decayed into a fetid swamp of self-enrichment, cronyism, and patronage.
It is easy to dismiss state capture as a feature of the Zuma administration, and no doubt Ramaphosa will try to scapegoat him and the Guptas. However, doing so ignores the inconvenient fact that Zuma was facing unresolved charges of bribery and corruption going back to the Arms Deal in the 1990s, and even so the party elected him to become president of the ANC and South Africa. Other corruption allegations, like the Bosasa tender corruption, also long predate Zuma’s presidency.
Are those the actions of a party that has always opposed corruption?
Ramaphosa recounts that there was also a ‘culture of corruption’ when the National Party ruled the country in the days of Apartheid. He is quite correct.
In fact, the similarities between the old NP and the ANC are startling. They have similar economic policies, with heavy-handed state control over almost all sectors of the economy. They both used the civil service and government projects as a provider of comfortable employment to their constituencies. They both advocate preferential treatment based on race. They’re both nationalist and protectionist. And indeed, they’re both corrupt. The Broederbond was the template for the ANC’s cadre deployment policy.
I’m just not convinced that when you’re facing a Commission of Inquiry, it is very useful to point out that the actions of your party have been no worse than those of a party widely condemned for crimes against humanity, not to mention driving the South African economy off a cliff. That’s like saying, ‘But Hitler did it too!’
He said that the ANC’s election in 1994 was ‘an opportunity to make a decisive break from that past’, ‘a new era of transparency, accountability, ethical conduct and respect for the rule of law’, and that ‘[t]he experience of the past 27 years shows that endeavour for the most part to have been successful’.
Delusional, as I said. If this were true, the Zondo Commission would have no reason to exist.
The very earliest accusations of influence-buying in the Arms Deal date back to 1992, not long after Ramaphosa became secretary-general of the ANC. That does not directly implicate him, of course, but that allegations of impropriety go back to before the ANC even took the reins of government in South Africa does rather undermine the notion that the party has always opposed corruption.
Though he acknowledges that the organisation could and should have done more to curb state capture, Ramaphosa says that ‘the vast majority’ of ANC leaders are opposed to corruption.
Contradictions and corruption
That contradicts numbers compiled by the Centre for Risk Analysis, a strategic advisory group based in Johannesburg, which show that, as of February 2021, of the ANC National Executive Committee’s 80 members, 41 have been implicated in serious corruption.
Ramaphosa says the ANC distances itself from those in its ranks who may have been involved in corruption or state capture, but the vast majority of implicated members, including many facing very serious allegations, remain safely ensconced in cabinet positions, Parliament, provincial executives, or provincial legislatures, three years after Ramaphosa became president.
Ramaphosa told Zondo that there is now broad agreement about a ‘step-aside’ policy, but the first person to whom it has been applied, party secretary-general and former Free State premier Ace Magashule, doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave.
Former North West Province premier Supra Mahumapelo is notable for having been suspended from the ANC for five years, but not over corruption, or mismanaging a province, but for offending party discipline.
Ramaphosa speaks in terms of ideals and aspirations. He acknowledges some of the rot and corruption in the party, but portrays this as merely a cause for ‘renewal’. His testimony consists of a lot of vague posturing, agreeing merely that what happened is unfortunate and not how it was supposed to be.
A ‘party animal’
What he pointedly fails to do is take any personal responsibility or assign any organisational culpability for the gross citizen abuse for which his party has been responsible, and which it variously failed to acknowledge, refused to investigate, or actively defended.
As the testimony continued while writing this, Ramaphosa was often forced to admit that the party ‘should have known’, or ‘should have acted’, but did not do so. With every new year, and every new scandal, the ANC seems to ‘draw a line in the sand’ on corruption, and nothing ever happens.
Ramaphosa described himself as a ‘party animal’. His role at the Zondo Commission is to defend the party. Expect a lot more of the past exonerative tense as his testimony continues.
- Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and independent researcher. This article was originally published on the Daily Friend. The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.
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Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.