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IS PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA’S WAR ON CORRUPTION REAL, FACTIONAL OR BOTH?

In the Special Investigation Unit report submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa, it is evident that Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize is deeply entangled in the corruption scandal involving the Health department and the outsourced communication firm Digital Vibes. From the SIU report, the Sunday Times had in early July already reported how Dr Mkhize was at the centre of the scandal.

The public now knows that Digital Vibes backhander benefits to Mkhize included not only his son’s bakkie and renovations to the family house, but also R4.2 million given to Mkhize’s son. In the light of the new information, SAFTU reiterates its position that the Health Minister should be fired. Failing to resolve this after many weeks confirms that President Cyril Ramaphosa is profoundly weak when it comes to addressing corruption.

Transparency Int’l corruption perception rating, ranked least to most, 1995-2020: South Africa

However, it must be noted that Mkhize’s corruption scandal is one of countless frauds that the ANC government has normalised. It is shocking that Transparency International’s respected Corruptions Perception rating puts the South African state as 69th most corrupt today, while in 1995 when the rankings began, the government was only 23rd least corrupt. (Still, the state is less corrupt than the corporate sector in relative terms, for PwC’s economic crime rankings have typically rated the SA bourgeoisie as world’s #1 most corrupt, and at present tied for #2 with China, behind India.)

Speaking to the African National Congress’ Eastern Cape provincial leadership, former president Thabo Mbeki admitted that during his tenure there was a minister reported to him as “Mr 10 percent.” He abused procurement procedures when awarding tenders, expecting kickbacks from those who win the contracts.

In reality, there were many Mr 10 percents since the first democratic government and as the brazen theft from the public represented by Digital Vibes shows, they continue to exist, even in Ramaphosa’s national and provincial executives.

Bulwark against corruption?

President Cyril Ramaphosa campaigned by playing the public card of anti-corruption, while amassing a reported R1 billion war chest to buy ANC electoral delegates at Nasrec in 2017. The factional groupings within the ANC are also drawn amongst others, classification that the pro-Zuma faction is soaked in corruption. Pro-Zuma forces classify Ramaphosa as a puppet of “White Monopoly Capital”, the WMC whose corruption ― they argue ― dwarfs public sector corruption.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC, which clearly is a pro- Ramaphosa majority, drew the framework for the implementation of the step-aside rule, that saw Secretary General Ace Magashule ejected from his position as the General Secretary.

For this, Ramaphosa has been hailed as serious about rooting out corruption in the ANC and in government. In the wake of the SIU report before him, can he demonstrate his commitment to root out corruption and fire Mkhize, or will he cower at the mercy of factional battles?

State Capture testimonies to the Zondo Commission implicated many leaders, and the SIU investigations ― which deserves applause ― continue to finger various government officials and senior leaders of the ANC in corrupt activities. Some of these senior leaders are the president’s leading lieutenants in the party’s factional battles.

Gwede Mantashe has been implicated in having a hand, through his “associates and bureaucrats”, in the awarding of a highly dubious tender to the Turkish firm Karpowership. He rejects these claims, but has not cleared his Director General and Deputy Director General, who are allegedly directly implicated in soliciting bribes for preference from a Karpowership competitor, Aldworth Mbalati.

Like Mkhize, corrupt leaders always deny their specific role in awarding and benefiting from contracts. That Mantashe denies these allegations, is therefore not proof of innocence.

Other allegations now surround Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, over laptop procurement and management of SETAs meant to train our workers for a better future. In a letter to parliament, suspended Director-General Gwebinkundla Qonde revealed how Nzimande procured 500 000 laptops through piggybacking on another order, without going to the required new tender.

That the whistleblowers wrote letters to President Ramaphosa with no reply much less the decisive attention needed, is indicative of his hesitancy to suspend his allies, perhaps for fear of antagonising others engaged in similar alleged wrong-doing.

SAFTU calls on Ramaphosa to instruct a forensic investigation into Mantashe’s and Nzimande’s conduct. Both have been leading members of the Communist Party (as is Qonde), and this is one more reason to raise our ethical accountability standards to the highest level, so that the radical rhetoric of politicians like these can one day be taken seriously.

War on corruption, or on factions

If the war on corruption is indeed a real war, and not just an instrument to fight factional battles, Ramaphosa’s commitment will be tested by what he does with these allegations of corruption especially against his close allies.

His rivals accuse him of using state security institutions and the judiciary to fight factional battles. This accusation – which appears to be a diversion tactic by those who want to avoid accountability at all costs – can be disproved if he suspends and fire his allies implicated in acts of corruption.

Even if he was to fire them, this will not reduce illusions on our part. Corruption is hardwired into monopoly capitalism, especially in an economy that has witnessed so many crimes against humanity as South Africa’s, and also into the neocolonial state.

Monopoly capitalists have thwarted competition and can manipulate the market to understate or overstate their production units, revenue and profits. They have found illicit financial flows – tax dodging and base erosion – to be unregulated methods of increasing their riches.

Lonmin had actually moved more than R1.5 billion in illicit financial flows during the time its main South African shareholder was President Ramaphosa, and his role in Shanduka included sustaining the tiny Bermuda marketing office that served as the vehicle for the illicit outflows. When Ramaphosa chaired MTN and Shanduka, there were similar accusations of illicit financial flows.

But a monopoly constituted by traditional capital tends not to open room for new capital. It is for this reason that dominant white capital, is not opening room for new emerging comprador class, aside from a few selected areas such as transport and coal mining, or tokenistic roles as black empowerment ‘partners’ who are essentially silent – unless emails are required to the police to carry out discipline against wildcat strikers, as Ramaphosa showed at Marikana. The frustrated black bourgeoisie is eft merely eating crumbs that fall from the dining table of traditional capital, or looting state contracts in the manner illustrated by Digital Vibes, which charged the state R3 million for setting up one SABC interview.

There are literally a tiny handful of men like the current president, and his brother-in- law, Patrick Motsepe, whom traditional capital allows to become hideously wealthy in this corrupt system. Instead, for the emergence of a middle-class as well as for less wholesome modes of capital accumulation through procurement, too many black South Africans depend on the state for wealth accumulation.

Taking into account the illicit financial flows, it is clear that corruption has plagued both the private and public sector, and at times, even feature in the relation between the two. To illustrate this, former chief procurement officer at Treasury, Kenneth Brown, reported in 2017 that R600 billion annual procurement budget of government is lost to corporate theft.

For these reasons, monopoly corporations and the state will always be sites of corruption under capitalism, especially in the world’s most unequal country, South Africa. To abolish corruption, will start with abolishing neocolonialism and capitalism – a struggle which we as trade unionists are permanently dedicated.