Razina Munshi FM Fox editor & columnist
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Many critics have dismissed Cyril Ramaphosa’s seven-page letter to ANC members, in which he calls out the corrupt among them, as simple lip service. South Africans seem to have shrugged it off as a cosmetic move that does nothing to mask the role the ruling party played in entrenching corruption and patronage.

And, let’s face it, it does little to aid efforts to hold rogue public servants and party officials to account.

In his letter, the president directed his ire at all officials accused of corruption, but he is particularly harsh towards those who used Covid-19 for personal enrichment. He refers to the exploitation of this grave medical, social economic crisis as an “unforgiveable betrayal”.

“The progress that our nation has made in improving the lives of our people in the last quarter century is being eroded by corruption and patronage,” he says. The ANC’s National Executive Committee, he added, believes revelations of corruption should “cause us to dip our heads in shame”.

The problem is, the timing of Ramaphosa’s letter couldn’t be worse. It comes three days after the ANC opted to reward corruption-accused former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede with a position in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

The letter dances neatly around Gumede’s appointment, just as it skirts around the alleged complicity of Ramaphosa’s own spokesperson in tender irregularities of personal protective equipment for Covid-19.

The real question is, what now? What does Ramaphosa’s letter really leave South Africans with that we didn’t have on Sunday morning?

Well, what it does give us is insight into his presidency. First, it’s a sign of how removed he is from average ANC members, from internal mechanisms to hold party members to account and from the reality of the rot that has infected the party.

He is a man who has failed to demonstrate that he is in charge of the party he leads.

Second, the letter reveals that the ANC is as polarised as ever. Battle lines are drawn. Different factions are stepping up to defend their turf, and Ramaphosa’s corner seems to be shrinking.

Third, the way South Africans reacted to Ramaphosa’s statement tells its own story. The current scepticism of Ramaphosa’s ability to do anything, and disbelief that ANC members will have any regard for the seriousness of the message, contrast sharply with the embrace the president’s new dawn received when he first assumed office.

The wheels of justice

But does this mean that nothing has been done to prosecute corruption since Ramaphosa was appointed president two years ago?

Not at all, says analyst JP Landman, who has written a detailed account of the steps that have been taken to clean up the rot. Landman suggests that the president is playing the long game and knows where he wants to go.

“As the timeline clearly shows, getting rid of people, replacing them with better ones and building up institutions takes time,” Landman says.

But he adds: “One must distinguish between what the state is doing and what the ANC is doing or not doing. Ramaphosa has clearly put the state on a new trajectory. It is important for the ANC now to follow suit.”

Meanwhile, civil society groups are engaged in rallying of their own.

Last Friday the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation held an online rally against Covid-19 corruption. Speaking at the event, former public protector Thuli Madonsela said SA had lost money, probably some of its frontline workers and the trust of its people in government because of corruption.

“What saddens me is that everyone now blames the president,” she said. “Yes, of course, he is the captain, but he allowed himself to be barricaded by his own ministers. He was advised by his ministers, who moved him away from the Disaster Management Act and created a structure, mostly allowing one party to manage this.”

Is emergency procurement the problem?

Madonsela replied: “Can we blame the fact that emergency procurement had to be done? No, the law is clear. Nothing in emergency procurement allows for overcharging, overbilling, false billing, cronyism, nepotism and the violation of [the principle of] conflict of interest.”

The rally’s other speakers included Derek Hanekom, Sandile Zungu, Cas Coovadia, Zwelinzima Vavi, Mark Heywood and Lawson Naidoo. Watch the full event here.

* Munshi is News & Fox editor of the FM​

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