Here’s a question for you. Who said the following? ‘The ANC is pained immensely by stories of corruption. We are highly conscious of the damage that corruption does to the party and the country … with some cases maybe we have made an approach that is too legalistic and that approach needs to be reassessed.’

If you guessed it was Cyril Ramaphosa, you’d be right. But you would almost certainly never have guessed that this statement dates to the now distant days of October 1996.

This 24-year-old quote is the introductory frame of the latest Centre for Risk Analysis (CRA) webinar briefing by Frans Cronje, CRA director and CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), aptly titled ‘The ANC’s Corruption Dilemma’.

With good reason, Cronje begins by observing: ‘The fact that [Ramaphosa] has been wrestling with this demon for that amount of time sets the tone for what is going to be a fairly sceptical briefing.’

The dispassionate analysis that follows underscores Cronje’s point that the ‘institutional depth of the problem of corruption is not properly understood’, and the fact of its now being ‘woven into the fabric of the ANC’, illustrates why the task of corruption-busting is far greater than merely ‘removing a few rotten eggs’.

And part of what is not understood very well is that corruption cannot be isolated from the pressing task of turning the country’s fortunes around.

Scale of the crisis

In bullet points at the end of his presentation, Cronje sums up the dilemma of the title, and the scale of the crisis.

  • The scale of corruption has become institutionalised. It is no longer peripheral but rather woven into the fabric of the ANC and the government;
  • Corruption is cross-factional. The clean-vs-dirty-ANC narrative does not hold up to scrutiny;
  • Sincere prosecutorial action would devastate the management ranks of the ANC, but would first have to be agreed to within those ranks;
  • Such action would further collapse the patronage networks upon which ANC unity depends;
  • Preferential procurement policy has legal legitimacy but in practice comes down to rent-seeking that the media and public regard as corruption. Challenging the rent-seeking would put BEE on trial; and
  • Ramaphosa and the ANC are pressed to act and know they must be seen to act, but sincere attempts to defeat corruption would tear the ANC apart.

The party must choose between backing ‘ruthlessly firm political action’ – which would be possible under a ‘strong-man leader’ – as an effective counter to corruption or facing the consequences at the ballot box.

Prospect of losing power

In the absence of action, Cronje argues, the ANC risks losing power before the end of the decade. There is no ‘third way out of trouble’.

Popular disenchantment is reflected in the trends, he points out. Ahead of last year’s elections, ANC support among people in their twenties was just over 50% in a country in which only a third of people are over 35.

Young South Africa was the focus of the 2015 IRR study by policy fellow John Kane-Berman, Born Free But Still In Chains, South Africa’s first post-apartheid generation.

This cohort is, in the idiom, the future, numbering (then) some 27 million, about half the country’s population.

Many of them, Kane-Berman found, had flourished under democracy, but the vast majority – and the scale has doubtless grown since – were jobless, poorly educated and politically alienated.

Noting the common perception that born frees were still ‘trapped’ by the legacy of apartheid, Kane-Berman wrote: ‘The damage done by apartheid has been chronicled in great detail in hundreds of publications by the Institute dating back to the 1930s.

‘However, all the data and the analysis presented in the present paper combine to show that born frees are now trapped much more by other factors: low economic growth, high crime, poor education, few opportunities for skills training, labour law which raises barriers to entry into the labour market, and racial preferencing legislation which may be designed to give them a leg up but which often operates in practice as a leg-iron. Social and economic alienation no doubt feeds through into alienation from a political system already suffering from a crisis of credibility. All of these issues need to be addressed. They need to be addressed in the first place because they are all serious problems in themselves. However, they also need to be addressed in order to neutralise threats that continued economic exclusion may in due course present to the rule of law, stability, and democratic institutions.’

Could the ANC overcome its difficulties and address young South Africa’s needs and wants?

‘Political consequences’

In the CRA webinar, Cronje weighs the options, concluding that ‘if firmer action does not follow on corruption as much as on economic reform – if you do not have prosecutions and stop the rot, and you do not create jobs and establish new businesses on the ground – you play for time and the political consequences will catch up with you’.

The difficulty, both for Ramaphosa and for the party itself, is captured in what Cronje calls the ‘misnomer’ of two camps in the ruling party … ‘that there is a good faction that is clean, not corrupt and supports structural reform clashing with a bad faction that is corrupt and opposes structural reform’.

‘In reality,’ he goes on, ‘that does not work on the ground in the ANC.

‘Many of those who are politically clean sit on the Left, within the SACP and the like, and often, on governance, they are far less enmeshed in malfeasance than some of their peers – but they strongly oppose structural reform.

‘Then there are others on the Ramaphosa side of the equation, who support everything he is trying to do and believe the country would be better run if he was successful, but are themselves implicated in allegations of corruption, and if he ever acted firmly, those actions might in time ensnare them and they could go to prison.’

It was necessary to ‘distinguish between strong support for Ramaphosa and strong support for structural reform’.

‘Few people who would sleep comfortably’

‘There is very limited support for structural reform and that is the reason why we do not see much by way of reform,’ Cronje says. ‘On corruption, nominally there is wide support, but there are very few people who would sleep comfortably if they knew a ruthless prosecutor had been given free rein to do what must be done.’

If, as is doubtless true, corruption was damaging to party and country in 1996, all these years later it is nothing short of paralysing.

[Picture: Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay]

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  1. The destruction of the ANC will leave a vacuum to be filled by whom? The EFF are second best guess with their appeal to the youth and seemingly proactive (in reality destructive). Unless the “silent majority parties” form some sort of coherent and workable coalition then it is going to be situation normal, Groundhog Day, forever.

  2. Ever heard of the DA, AJ? The ANC propaganda via the mass media has been very successful in trashing the DA. The fact is the DA is very capable of clean honest governance of South Africa. Their re-focus on non-racism is what the country was crying out for before the end of apartheid. Non-racism is what the constitution requires and the key to prosperity and a good life for all. Open your eyes my friend – there is hope

    • Hahahahahahaha. The great blue wave that won’t come. The sad thing is that politicians are all the same. Very few are altruistic and do it for the people, The what’s in it for me mentality covers the political spectrum.

      • Agreed, I had high hopes for the DA but it seems that they have imploded. They are trying to find a rudder for their ship now. I hope they do find one, because we do need effective opposition in this country.

  3. ANC alliance hegemony will be replaced by a fragmented array of political parties. These parties will, in turn, reflect more accurately the disparate nature of the South African population. Rural versus urban versus metropolitan, tribal/provincial, employed and unemployed, educated and uneducated. Gauteng will be lost to the ANC and the Zulus in Natal could break away…we are in for very interesting and fluid times. The Western Cape under the DA has shown the way…

    • As long as it is the ANC that is fragmented, but some fragmentation doesn’t really result in effective opposition. In fact, none of the ANC’s fragmentation has resulted in anything but nominal opposition parties.

  4. ‘On corruption, nominally there is wide support, but there are very few people who would sleep comfortably if they knew a ruthless prosecutor had been given free rein to do what must be done.’
    This the last straw RSA is clinging to, before the tsunami of total chaos hit us. That prosecutor does not exist just look at Marikana & Isedemeni results. To me that is the yard stick.

  5. What is so difficult with political “checks and balances”?
    The only reason not to implement is that you don’t want it.
    There is you answer.

  6. The crime syndicate : Anarchy, Nepotism and Corruption that fronts as ANC political party, being more and more exposed every day.

  7. This is a democracy. The reason we have a democracy is so that OUR PEOPLE can choose who and how they are governed… .
    The fact that the ANC remains in power by democratic means either indicates the they stay in power through fraudulent means or that OUR PEOPLE keep voting for them. Dont blame the ANC for the ongoing corruption and crime, blame the electorate ……
    So did democracy fail in SA ?
    Was white minority rule worse?
    We have a minority that rule now anyways, because this is not democracy …… its a typical African ‘democracy’ where the PEOPLE has been captured by the ruling elite with government tenders, grants and free stuff paid for by the tax payers.

    I want to place a summery of Prof Paul Collier of Oxford University’s book ” An extract from : ‘Wars, gun and votes: Democracy in dangerous places”, which explains the failure of democracy in Africa:

    A book written by Paul Collier, Professor in economics at Oxford University
    (2009). Leader of the Dept. for African Economic Studies.

    He wrote the following in regards to political leaders:

    “In modern well developed Democracies, politicians are disciplined by facing the voters.
    If an incumbent politician had not even tried to deliver what people want, electors would notice.

    Politicians want to stay in power. Partly because they feel a vocation to do good, we hope, but it is also a choice of lifestyle: it is their profession and they don’t want to be unemployed. So, between media scrutiny and the politician’s appetite for power, political leaders are pinioned to trying hard for the common good.

    In under developed new Democracies this is often not the case.
    Voters often have precious little knowledge about the choices they face. Even past performance of the leaders, which voters just lived through, will typically be open to multiple interpretations.

    There is also the problem that some voters are voting for or against the political leaders, regardless of performance, because of ethnic identity.
    Their societies are usually divided into competing ethnic/identity groups.
    As a result, ethnicity is by far the easiest basis on which to organize political loyalty.
    The problem with that is that loyalty is not issues-based and thus not performance-based either.

    Votes are simply frozen in identity blocks of rival identities.
    A consequence of these frozen voter blocks are that the votes that an incumbent politician attract, are not sensitive to performance of the politician: votes do not hinge on whether he has done a good job or bad job.

    So, besides lack of info for voters, relative few electors are going to base their votes on performance judgment.

    Perhaps also the scope for the government to produce a good performance is really not good at all, maybe due to its own limitations.
    Especially after years of poor performance, a government may even lose faith in its ability to make a decisive difference.
    Finally, suppose that if the government does choose to be good, it has to forgo behavior that is decidedly lucrative. When messing about with the economy to the detriment of citizens, but opening up many little niches and crannies for personal enrichment and for rewarding loyalty among followers.

    As quality of voter information is made weaker, as identity politics freezes more and more votes, as government’s confidence in its own ability to shape the events diminishes, and as the cost of forgoing bad governance are increased, a point is reached at which facing an election does not discipline incumbent politicians into trying to perform well.
    And if politicians can still face a reasonable chance of winning elections without bothering to deliver good performance, the sort of people who seek to become politicians will change.

    If being honest and competent does not give you an electoral advantage, then the Honest and Competent will be discouraged.
    Crooks will replace the honest candidates.
    One depressing indicator of such a process is that democratic politics in these societies attract candidates with criminal records.

    Electors just don’t have enough info to sort out accusations from reality: either the press is too muzzled or too free
    There is so much mud slinging without recourse to verification that voters discount what ever they are told or electors are frozen in identity blocks and support their own politicians, even if they are CRIMINALS. ”


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