Frank Chikane: Fight back, SA

The alarming and mounting evidence of criminality within the state and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is fast eroding the confidence of the people and their trust in the government.

Large sections of the population are becoming restless and the recent medium-term budget policy statement, delivered by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, shows that our economy is in the doldrums.

Even the die-hards in the governing ANC who supported elements of this criminality now acknowledge its hugely negative effects on the party’s reputation and its future prospects, especially with regard to the 2019 national elections.

The exposure of public sector criminality was important for South Africans to wake up, take a stand and stop the rot.

And the exposure of this rot is now beginning to send shivers down the spines of some of our “comrade leaders” – who should really be called “comrade tsotsis” – and their Trojan horses.

They can feel the noose slowly tightening around them.

They realise that the game could be over sooner rather than later, bringing with it the prospect of facing long prison terms for abusing their positions in pursuit of self-interest and the interests of some selected families, all at the expense of the people.

Their stranglehold on the ANC is, after all, no longer as absolute as before.

Most worrisome is the fact that even a cursory glance at the startling revelations about state capture suggests that some of the misdeeds border on treason in terms of the Constitution and the law.

Those entrusted with the affairs of the nation cannot abuse their positions of privilege to loot state resources and serve their own interests.

And it is treasonous to go even further and capture state security organs to serve interests other than those prescribed in the Constitution and the law.

A coup d’état of corruption

It is most egregious for these organs of state to be used by such traitors to launder money – including moving it to the foreign bank accounts of individuals or companies – not only to enrich themselves, but also to amass this stolen loot as part of a “war chest” to corrupt and compromise the democratic system and further entrench corruption.

This amounts to a coup d’état against the people of South Africa, especially the poor and the historically disadvantaged.

As we have observed before, the elected leadership of the ANC has been unable to stop this dangerous slide into the abyss.

The ANC itself was the first to be captured – the party’s 2012 national conference in Mangaung in the Free State signified the conclusion of its capture.

The national executive committee (NEC) elected at that conference was, by design, loaded with a faction bent on pursuing state capture at all costs.

Many others were pliant – and pliable accomplices mount no resistance.

No decision could be made by the NEC to checkmate this disastrous trajectory.

This rendered the body ineffective and unable to deal with the culprits in its midst.

Concerns about the conduct of the president were dismissed outright, notwithstanding the damage done to the party, the government and the country.

Protesting voices within the ANC’s elected leadership were drowned by the disciples of this project and those compromised or constrained by the politics of the stomach.

While the ANC was going through its internal battles, the damage to its credibility and integrity was accelerating by the day and is now so deep, it is affecting the country and the government negatively.

A South African diplomat once told me that one needed only seven years to cause enormous damage to the country.

This, because the president is the appointing authority of almost the entire government.

A president who is disinclined to aid and abet national interests can severely weaken the state machinery in a short time, as has happened here over the past eight years.

It is in this context that developments in SOEs and other critical institutions such as the SA Revenue Service (Sars) should be understood.

Sars is of particular concern as it plays a critical role in addition to the one of collecting revenue.

Given its capacity to monitor income, tax dodging and evasion, as well as money laundering and the illegal export of capital, Sars is instrumental in fighting crime.

We are in the fortunate position that the judiciary is still functioning within its constitutional mandate.

Otherwise, we would now be a mafia state, with criminal gangs running the country and determining who would be arrested and who went to jail.

ANC’s failure to ‘self-correct’

It is apparent that most of the justice clusters within government have been captured and paralysed, to the extent that they only pursue those who are opposed to criminal activity.

It is for this reason that the masses should do everything possible to defend the judiciary, the last bastion of our democracy.

With the failure of the leadership to pull back the ANC from the precipice, members of the ANC – through their branch representatives – are the only ones who can stop state capture at the December elective conference.

Two weeks ago, we warned that this is their last chance to save the ANC, and along with it, the government and the country.

Failure to do so will signal the beginning of the end of the ANC as we have known it for decades. Some would say that this will be the final nail in the coffin of the ANC.

Fortunately, politically conscious citizens, who are still vigilant, have done what the ANC could not do and raised the necessary alarm against this most dangerous project.

In doing so, they have stopped the state capture project from capturing the entire country, including its citizens.

Civil society bodies – including those that participated in the Conference for the Future of SA, held on July 18, the birthday of former president Nelson Mandela – as well as religious communities, academics and some leaders of the ANC, have mounted a massive resistance effort against this project and exposed it for what it is.

Those working within the ANC have correctly characterised the rhetoric of “radical economic transformation”, spewed by people driving the state capture project, as nothing but a cover for the looting of state resources.

The progressive forces mentioned above have made it clear that they support a radical transformation of the economy to achieve the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution, but are against anyone who steals from the poor in the name of radical economic transformation.

The propaganda stratagems, hatched by UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger, were intended to hoodwink our people.

But these backfired and brought down the company.

The devious plans also exposed the racism that was implicit in attempts to make state capture look as if it was good for blacks when, in fact, it amounted to a reversal of the painstaking gains the country had registered since 1994.

The ANC leaders have failed to concretise the process of its avowed “self-correction” and create space for the leadership to critically look at its failures of the last few years.

Instead, the veterans and stalwarts of the ANC – together with the alliance partners and other progressive forces – have become the public representatives of the values of the ANC of old, values which have been suppressed within the movement’s official structures.

The national consultative conference, aimed at addressing the challenges faced by the ANC, has been planned by the group of veterans and stalwarts. It will take place from November 17 to 19.

It forms part of their efforts to return the ANC to its former glory of being a genuine representative of the people, not of a few individuals in pursuit of their own interests.

As we have said earlier, the empire of state capture has started to fall apart because of the resistance of the people of South Africa.

The focus on the affected SOEs, such as Eskom and Transnet, as well as on state entities such as National Treasury, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, Sars and SAA has left no room for those who want to continue looting the resources of the country.

Consulting companies such as KPMG, SAP and McKinsey have been forced to account for the role they have played in the state capture project.

The key players in the SOEs – including senior staff, board members and their political principals – are under enormous pressure.

The danger of cornered rats

This is putting the drivers of this project in a corner they never expected.

Their efforts at keeping out of the clutches of the law are also falling apart, leaving them exposed and at risk of being arrested and charged.

This is where the risk for the country comes in. As the criminals become desperate, they are likely to resort to desperate measures to defend themselves against this risk.

Like a cornered tiger, they are likely to cause damage to their own comrades, the ANC, government and the country.

Former UK prime minister Winston Churchill once said: “Even a cornered rat is dangerous.”

A cornered person instinctively does one of three things: flee, fight or freeze. If those involved in corrupt activities feel threatened, they will do everything possible to protect themselves.

The first way of doing so is to do whatever it takes to stay in power, even if it means imposing themselves on the majority of the people and ruling them against their will.

But this may not be easy in South Africa as the people will resist.

In addition, many members of the security services, including the intelligence community, are professionals who respect the Constitution.

No one can order or instruct them to act in a manner that violates the Constitution and the laws of the country. Section 199 (6) empowers them not to “obey a manifestly illegal order”.

Another way in which the criminal elements may continue to control the levers of power is by doing everything possible to compromise the electoral processes. This is already in the mix for the ANC December elective conference.

It is frightening to hear former president Kgalema Motlanthe – who was himself secretary-general of the ANC for 10 years – talk about the ANC’s elective processes as “flawed” and subject to “manipulation” and “interference”.

This means that the December elective conference could give us compromised leaders who may become leaders of the country.

Citizens must stop the rot

If this happens, the last line of defence will be the citizens of this country, who will have to act to ensure that no criminal elements ever come close to the levers of power again.

The citizenry must make sure that the national electoral processes are beyond any form of manipulation and interference.

As citizens, we must work on the basis that those who have no qualms in corrupting the electoral processes of the ANC will not hesitate to act in similar measure with respect to the 2019 national general elections.

To make the national election safe from manipulation, citizens must assume collective responsibility, starting with examining the integrity of officials of the Independent Electoral Commission and all the support staff who will be involved in the electoral process.

We must all be the eyes and ears of the nation wherever we find ourselves.

Civil society, like the religious communities and others, must see to it that we have enough election observers to ensure the credibility of every voting station throughout the country.

We must make it impossible for any official or politician to tamper with our electoral systems and democratic processes.

The people of South Africa must be warned that beyond the ANC elective conference in December, they are the only ones who can save the country from destruction and ultimate collapse.

We owe it to generations ahead of us to stop this rot and save the country.

– Rev. Frank Chikane is a South African civil servant, writer and cleric. He is a member of the African National Congress.

* This article was first published in City Press on 5 November 2017.

(Photo credit: Gallo)