Razina Munshi Columnist
President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the Covid-19 treatment facility at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg. Picture: Jerome Delay/Pool via REUTERS
President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the Covid-19 treatment facility at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg. Picture: Jerome Delay/Pool via REUTERS

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Monday letter was blunt in its description of the thieves who are treating the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity for enrichment. The president described them, aptly, as scavengers. “It is like a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.”

He is surely right to say that accounts of corruption have caused outrage. South Africans can’t help but be incensed – they have a right to that.

And Ramaphosa is also spot-on when he says accounts of looting, anticompetitive conduct and irregular tenders have opened up the wounds of the state capture era, when senior figures in society seemed to get away with corruption on a grand scale.

But his claim that the country has “done much” to turn its back on the state capture era “by disrupting and dismantling the networks that had infiltrated government, state companies and even our law enforcement agencies to loot public resources” is hard to stomach.

Battle-weary South Africans aren’t seeing any “dismantling” of those networks; all we’re seeing is yet more eating of state resources. It may be a different set of crooks, but so what?

Ramaphosa’s difficulty understanding “the utter lack of conscience” that has led to corruption in the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE), the price gouging on essential items, and the illegal diversion of state resources is equally infuriating. It’s an echo of the “shock” we’ve heard him express too many times before, at some or other revelation of corruption.

Now, he suggests that “finally”, the state is determined to “deal with the entrenched patronage networks that enable government employees to bid for state contracts through their friends and relatives”.

The problem is, he has said this before – so why believe him this time?

Of course public servants aren’t the only offenders. And the president is right that executives and companies engaged in anticompetitive conduct, corruption and bribery are equally guilty.

But his biggest weakness is the deep patronage that props up the ruling party. No one, in theory, is better placed to tackle rot in the organisation than its own leader – and on this score, he has failed altogether.

Citizens want to see a president that is on the warpath against the corrupt, the wasteful and the incompetent in his own party. But the fact is, the biggest hyenas feeding off the carcass that is SA’s fiscus come from within the ANC. And until Ramaphosa does something about that, the platitudes he delivered on Monday will do nothing to stem the tide of deep public disgust.

Banalities and clichés

Cosatu’s call on Monday, for Ramaphosa to prove that his administration is not a “powerless scarecrow”, is starkly blunt in its attack on a weak president.

While the “hydra of corruption” predates Ramaphosa’s presidency, Cosatu says the dysfunction and “feebleness” of his administration in the face of this crisis are alarming.

“The ANC under his leadership continues to be seen as a rent-seeking, unaccountable caste. The president needs to act decisively and prove that his administration is not a powerless scarecrow with rubber teeth,” it says.

That this statement could have come from the labour federation – one of Ramaphosa’s staunchest allies ­ – shows how deep the disaffection with the president’s platitudes stretches. “He promised to do away with the impunity that was prevalent in the previous administration. We demand more action from the president and less banalities and clichés,” it says.

On this score, Cosatu talks for many of us. South Africans are furious, but they are not surprised.

In fact, there is nothing to surprise anyone about accounts of alleged corruption with a PPE tender. As News24 editor Adriaan Basson writes here, tender corruption has simply been institutionalised under the ANC.

And the rot we know of is just the tip of the iceberg. Basson relates the words of a senior government official: “All the tenders are corrupt. Each one of them. Everybody knows this.”

He says it is not hyperbolic to say we are probably overpaying for every single service and product the government procures for its citizens. Billions of rands are being diverted, every year, to luxury vehicles, properties and offshore bank accounts.

The only way to deal with this, Basson writes, is for the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to start making those long-awaited corruption and state capture arrests.

“The time is up. The people are restless. We need to see comrades and suits in handcuffs. Now,” he writes. Now, that shouldn’t surprise the president.

* Munshi is News & Fox editor of the FM​

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