Ramaphosa’s empty letter to ANC cadres

ANTHONY BUTLER: Ramaphosa extends theme of Good ANC v Bad ANC

Party’s national executive committee meets this week to discuss president’s recent comments on corruption

 BusinessLive 28 AUGUST 2020


The ANC’s national executive committee will convene this weekend to solemnly contemplate President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent lamentations about the scourge of corruption.

This latest bemoaning of the forces of darkness took the form of a letter to the ordinary cadres of the movement last Sunday. The president bewailed pandemic tender corruption, and fancifully told the nonexistent little people — sadly they are mostly just “ghost members” purchased by local barons — that “it is you who chooses the leadership, who sets the policies and who implements the programmes of our organisation”.

Extending his implicit 2019 campaign theme that the good ANC can defeat the bad ANC, he listed recent advances by the forces of goodness: squeaky-clean appointments in the criminal justice system; revenue service and pension fund commissioners who were probably not summoned up from beyond the grave; and parastatal boards partially freed from the grip of Guptoid zombies.

What he left out was telling. The party-enabled looting of state-owned enterprises is to continue. The exchange of influence for money through the Progressive Business Forum will go on. So too will abuses of the spirit of black empowerment policy that shower political insiders with undeserved wealth. Real change would require taking on ANC turkeys that simply will not vote for Christmas.

Ramaphosa’s initiative has more modest goals. The first is to rebut critics who have complained about the president’s own alleged indecisiveness. “Now is the time for action,” he rather decisively observes in his letter. Just to be sure we have got it, he reiterates that, “we now need to draw a line in the sand. We need to act urgently, we need to be decisive and we need to demonstrate a clear political will.”

The ANC is also concerned about next year’s local government elections. Due to an ANC oversight our electoral commissioners have not yet been sent for technical retraining in an “advanced democracy” such as China, that is our real friend. The commission has therefore wrongly insisted that elections should continue as scheduled. This means public perceptions of corruption must be changed in a hurry.

Meanwhile, the salaries of parastatal executives need to be paid and deprived entrepreneurs in the Eskom supply chain supported. More precisely, Cosatu members must engage in these charitable acts by sacrificing their pension funds for the greater good of ANC-led transformation.

On Wednesday, however, the Cosatu central executive committee stated that, “a corrupt government that pushes antiworker and antipoor policies cannot automatically count on the unconditional support of workers when it comes to the use of their pensions.

“Before the government talks about workers’ pensions” the committee clarified, “we demand to see real change in fighting corruption”. This means some politicians and managers — not too many — must be sent to prison if Cosatu bosses are to separate workers from their own savings.

Another objective is to focus further attention on ANC secretary- general Ace Magashule, the sacrificial lamb whose political death will apparently cleanse the movement’s stain of guilt. Finally, there is an underlying matter of contested presidential leadership. If nothing tangible comes of this latest public relations initiative the ANC’s two-term gamble on Ramaphosa may begin to lose some of its appeal.

There is no longer a “Zuma faction” to remove the ANC president. It would be electoral suicide to elevate a crook from a maize-growing province, who might appear to be next in line as leader. But it could yet be tempting to put fresh lipstick on the ANC pig, by turning to a quiet former premier who knows how the ANC works, perhaps from Gauteng or KwaZulu-Natal, to front yet another political rebirth for a senescent movement.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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