POST-APARTHEID South Africa has produced some first-class heroes. Two of them are former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and current Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. It was Madonsela’s work investigating the corruption of Jacob Zuma’s administration that verified the pattern identified by the press that she came to describe as a State of Capture. This forced the same Zuma to set up a commission of inquiry under Zondo, which, at vast expense in time and money at last produced the fifth and final volume of its report. Job done; so where and what next?

There is no time to bask in the satisfaction of a task achieved even though it is to the vast credit of South Africa and its adherence to the rule of law. The main value of the report as it stands is that those implicated in state capture can no longer claim it is fake news dreamed up by liberal media outlets and those ubiquitous Western agents. This was a commission that interrogated hundreds of witnesses testifying under oath. State capture by criminals, fraudsters, racketeers and money launderers was, and continues to be, a fact. Its chief executive officer was Zuma; its enabler the ANC as an institution.

Already Zuma’s so-called foundation (where does it get its money from?) has come out screaming, fronted by the usual suspects Dali Mpofu and Mzwanele Manyi. It is intended to take the report to court on review. But the objections to it put forward are largely ad hominem and look very tired. Zondo was not properly appointed (by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng; but how could Zuma have performed this task when he was the main suspect?); Zondo had a bias against Zuma based on a decades-old personal issue; Zondo denied Zuma his rights and treated him unfairly by sending him to jail for contempt (which he richly deserved). And so, on it goes: uBaba has been disrespected and that seems to be of greater concern than the plunder and sabotage of the nation. The people’s pain is acute; but probably does not extend to many beyond KwaZulu-Natal.

These technicalities and supposed slights could delay any action by way of prosecution for many months; the Stalingrad approach, appropriately named for a group of politicians openly aligned with the Kremlin’s war criminals. This is just one reason why the hopes pinned on the Zondo report may amount to little more than historical record. There is an understandable appetite for criminal proceedings, some high-profile convictions, long punitive sentences, and the donning of orange overalls. This would be justice; and many hope that it would be salutary.

The political fall-out would be monumental and the practicalities staggering in a country in which the governing party is not only virtually indistinguishable from the state but in most circumstances more important. Look no further than the pathetic impact of the ANC’s step-aside rule, the minimal reach of its integrity commission, and the fact that sitting in Cabinet are ministers who openly trash the judicial system, the Constitution and the very concept of the rule of law.

Convictions are unlikely to lead to the retrieval of lost millions or, indeed, be salutary. The perverted values of contemporary South Africa suggest that convicts would be hailed as heroes, punished for liberating wealth for the people in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. We live, after all, in a post-truth world ruled by an alternative dictionary. And, in a sense, a few convictions are not what is necessary. What is needed is the uprooting of a post-apartheid political culture of patronage and cadre deployment that nurtures corruption, incompetence and criminality. This is the norm; most government employees have, after all, never known anything else.

Successful societies educate and employ public servants to whom duty is paramount and corruption anathema. Individuals have their own political views, but there is a commonly understood and accepted code that maintains a necessary level of integrity and efficiency.[1] This is not the South African way. Loyalty is owed not to ideals and standards, but to the party in the fashion all-too-familiar in authoritarian states. Even that is now a comradely fiction as the party has fractured into near-autonomous factions and traditional types of allegiance have kicked in together with the worst aspects of modern materialism.

So, Minister X might yet spend some deserved years as a guest of the Department of Correctional Services. But whether that will have any significant influence on the failing performances of national and provincial government departments, state-owned enterprises and municipalities is moot. It is the malfeasance of the highly placed that captures the headlines and the conclusions of Zondo’s commission; but it is the routine, mundane criminality of thousands that keeps a rotten system in business.

What Madonsela set in train and Zondo has conclusively shown is that South Africa cannot recover and prosper without ridding itself of the now toxic culture of the liberation movement and the ideological baggage that suppresses every glimmer of progress towards a more equitable and prosperous nation. That baggage, as Zondo has demonstrated, venerates and rewards not just graft and incompetence but subversion of the very foundations of the democratic state. Sending a few political scumbags to prison is unfortunately not going to alter that.

It is perhaps this realisation that has prompted some people, reportedly including Madonsela herself, to suggest an amnesty along the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the 1990s. Contrition, information and restitution might be sufficient to wipe a slate clean although some ongoing sanction about public office and business dealings would presumably be required as well.

This might be a wise way forward because South Africa is now faced with phase two of state capture; not just economic sabotage and looting but an assault on democratic institutions. There is widespread evidence of this but some more comes out of the ANC policy conference held over the last weekend of July. Policy is perhaps a grand tern to attach to the ANC modus operandi, which is basically that of pontificating and sloganeering. But vanguardism is again at the head of the agenda with the ANC seen as the ‘leader’ of society, a posture that suggests some of the basic tenets of democracy may soon disappear. Apparently, there is a new mood in the ANC antagonistic to ‘individualism’, which indicates a move towards authoritarianism. Clearly there are many in the ranks who, for all sorts of reasons, yearn after the supposed simplicities of a one-party state.


[1] There is an apposite, contemporary example from Britain. The final nail in Boris Johnson’s political coffin was the recollection and evidence presented by a retired civil servant. In a post-truth world, a serial liar and charlatan was undone by truth.