Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

International relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu is set to meet five ambassadors from Western countries over the concerns they raised about corruption in a memorandum to President Cyril  Ramaphosa. 

Pressure is mounting on Ramaphosa locally and internationally to ensure that action is taken against those implicated in corruption.

The Sunday Times reported that the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, warned that Ramaphosa’s investment drive would fail, should allegations of corruption not be followed by concrete action against those implicated. 

The unprecedented memorandum comes amid threats by Western Cape premier Helen Zille to organise a tax revolt if those implicated in corruption are not brought to book.

We need strong institutions, we don't need strongman politics
Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo

Many of those implicated in state capture — including attempts to capture the state by the Gupta family, and the bribery scheme by services company Bosasa — remain part of Ramaphosa’s cabinet and serve on the national executive committee, the ANC’s top leadership structure. 

Sisulu criticised the move by the ambassadors, saying they should have followed proper diplomatic channels to raise these concerns. However, her department in a statement said she would issue a “démarche [to] the concerned ambassadors” to discuss the “substantive matters” contained in their memorandum and to reiterate “acceptable protocol”.

“This is a departure from established diplomatic practice,” the department of international relations and co-operation said. 

“In terms of acceptable diplomatic practice, protocol and convention, diplomatic missions are expected to communicate to the receiving state by means of a note verbal [diplomatic note] conveyed through the department.”

Addressing the substance of the memorandum, the department said the concerns were being addressed by the “respective clusters of our government”. 

According to the Sunday Times, the memorandum from the five countries,  which together account for 75% of foreign direct investment in SA, also expressed concern about “obstacles” to investment in the regulatory framework for mining, broad-based black economic empowerment targets and scorecards, and intellectual and property rights, as well as visa practices.

The report said that of particular concern to the signatories  was that the president’s commitment to act against corruption was not followed by action in  court.

However, Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for Advancement of the SA Constitution, said some of the calls for Ramaphosa to act are problematic because they are asking him to do something he is not constitutionally empowered to do. 

For instance, Ramaphosa cannot tell the National Prosecuting Authority which cases to prosecute. The institution has to act without fear, favour or prejudice. 

Though years of political interference, first under former presidents Thabo Mbeki and then under Jacob Zuma, had brought the institution to its knees, Naidoo said.  

The president has already taken the necessary steps to fix the institution. These include appointing Shamila Batohi as national director of public prosecutions, and instituting the inquiry into the fitness of her embattled deputies, Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, to hold office. 

“Ramaphosa has given the institution the political backing to do what it needs to do,” said Naidoo. “It is not clear what the writers of the memorandum expect him to do.”  

He added that such pressure placed the president in an awkward position, and perhaps displayed a lack of understanding of how the country’s constitutional democracy works. 

“We need strong institutions,” said Naidoo, “we don’t need strongman politics.”