Correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/NETWERK24/JACO MARAIS
Correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/NETWERK24/JACO MARAIS

Last weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of how South Africans are “disillusioned” with his government, and how the ANC needs to restore trust. Yet within hours, there was a perfect example of just how corrupted his party has become — and why it has no business being in power. 

Yesterday correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser admitted that he alone decided to grant medical parole to his old boss, former president Jacob Zuma, which allowed him to get out of jail after “serving” just two months of a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court. Conspicuously, the medical parole board, which is meant to advise on this, did not recommend Zuma get parole, as they found him in a “stable condition”. Fraser overruled that decision.

This, Mr President, encapsulated in one deed, eloquently tells you why nobody trusts your party.

And perhaps more abysmally for Ramaphosa, it surprised hardly anyone: people expected the ANC to abuse its power like this. 

This emerged in an interview with SABC’s Vuyo Mvoko that aired last night, in which a smiling Fraser admitted that he overruled the medical parole board. “I rescinded that and I took the decision to place him on medical parole and I’ve given a host of reasons.”

Whether those reasons explain exactly how it was that Zuma, who is allegedly (and this is the right use of the word here) suffering from an unspecified malady, deteriorated from rude singing-and-dancing good health to a frail victim of prison food in record time is unclear.

Asked by Mvoko whether he was confident that the decision would stand up to scrutiny, Fraser said: “It’s legal, and procedural.”

This illustrates that for jailbird politicians, it helps to have friends in high places, especially when you’re in chookie and really miss home cooking and the antics of your adorable twins (such scamps!).

Fraser, needless to say, just happens to be the former State Security Agency (SSA) director-general — essentially, Zuma’s chief spymaster — and is regarded as a key Zuma ally. Though he convinced nobody, Fraser attempted to argue otherwise. “I know the noise, the perception were (sic) created that I was a Jacob Zuma person,” he told Mvoko.

Well, yes — only it wasn’t so much noise as serious allegations, widely covered by both journalists and a state-commissioned high-level panel.

In Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers he alleges that Fraser as chief spy boss “concocted” the Principal Agent Network, which could have squandered up to R1bn of taxpayers’ money on what former inspector-general of intelligence Faith Radebe described as  “illegal activities”.

A 2018 high-level report into the goings-on at the SSA, commissioned by Ramaphosa, said: “It appeared that there had been instances of serious criminal behaviour, which had taken place under the guise of conducting covert work, and that this behaviour may have involved theft, forgery and uttering, fraud and corruption and even bordered on transgressions of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.”

And yet, Ramaphosa kept Fraser within his government, shifting him to the department of correctional services in 2018.

Even at the time, critics couldn’t believe how insipid a decision this was. Earlier this year, when asked at the Zondo commission about his decision to retain Fraser and former state security minister David Mahlobo in government, Ramaphosa said:  “I decided to wait for this process to be complete and finally it is coming to an end ... I’m waiting for the commission report.”

Today, Ramaphosa is reaping the whirlwind of this shoddy decision, and the immediate impact on his administration’s credibility. 

On Monday, after Zuma’s release, Ramaphosa said: “We have also received and taken note of the decision by correctional services and the national commissioner to release comrade Jacob Zuma from incarceration on medical parole. We welcome this.”

Does this suggest that Ramaphosa, the notional “great reformer”, approves of this abuse of power, in which Fraser overruled the medical parole board which, after all, was set up precisely to adjudicate on these decisions?  Does it suggest the ANC wants unity, above the law, and that Zuma in jail could hurt the ANC’s election prospects? 

And, perhaps more pressingly, does Ramaphosa approve of politicians bending the rules to suit themselves — or is he just willing to overlook this?

Either way, it tells you all you need to know about who not to vote for on November 1. 

Talevi is the FM's Money & Investing editor.

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