Let’s first restore the rule of law

Picture: GCIS

Newly installed South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to speedily restore the rule of law as one of the first priorities to lift growth, spur business confidence and boost ordinary citizens’ trust in government.

The rule of law will become entrenched if ordinary citizens perceive powerful criminal, corrupt and politically connected are being brought to book with the same steel that state agencies take on ordinary people if they are deemed to have done something wrong.

Pettily targeting law-abiding citizens as normally the case in failed states, for example the traffic police targeting citizens for bribes, or the South African Revenue Services hounding already paying taxpayers for more, or municipalities cutting off services of paying residents if they miss payments with a day or two, will not restore law and order.

Because corruption, mismanagement and incompetence has decimated the ability of the public sector to perform even the most basic tasks. The state has very little capacity as it is now to deliver on the election promises. High public debt, decreasing revenue because the shrinking economy caused by corruption and less public money will likely lead to cutting of many services.

In addition, restructuring the state, which is urgent, will also bring turmoil, resistance from powerful insiders, beneficiaries of the current system and from large sections of the ANC’s supporters who instinctively wants a big state for redress purposes.

South Africa now desperately require private sector funds, capacity and resources to deliver public services, create jobs and provide ideas. South Africa’s private sector sits with excess capacity: capital, human resources and technology.

However, the private sector will only bring the capacity to bear, if they are confident of government’s intention, will and credibility. The local private sector, having to operate in the local environment is very sensitive to lack of rule of law, because they may lose their assets, investments and lives when rule of breaks down.

Lack of rule of law is crucial barrier to confidence, credibility and trust in government by the private sector, foreign investors and ordinary citizens. Early actions to restore the rule of law is going to be key to boost confidence in Ramaphosa’s “new dawn”. There are a number of low-hanging fruits reforms to reassert the rule of law.

The president must promptly take on untouchable political barons in the ANC’s top leadership, whether in the party’s national executive committee, provincial or city political bosses. Being seen to determinedly prosecuting political untouchables in the ANC will help in restoring public confidence in the rule of law.

The president will have to prosecute untouchable corrupt ANC bigwigs in the provinces and cities. Limpopo, Northwest, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Free State are dominated by provincial barons who control public resources, appointments and contracts, ditching it out corruptly to themselves, family and allies. The big towns in many of these provinces have their own mini-me political mafia bosses.


Usually almost every citizens knows these political mafia bosses; who are often arrogant, bling and useless. Just witnessing how these political mafia bosses with little to offer strut around is sickening. Its galling for ordinary citizens to follow ‘law and order’ in the face of seeing these taxpayer funded officials getting away with it, while public services collapse. 

Criminals, gangsters and taxi bosses operating like mafia in the townships, controlling resources, unleashing violence on hardworking law abiding ordinary citizens and corrupting their children, undermine law of order at the coalface. The Ramaphosa government, to show its resolve to restore law and order, will have to quickly round-up the most notorious township gangsters, criminals and taxi mafia bosses across the country.

Local gangs, posing as “community” representative committees, across the country increasingly demand extortion money to allow new investments, whether new development projects, mining or construction, to continue in their area. Alternatively, they demand to control who should be given jobs and contracts by companies. They have stopped development in many impoverished areas.

Inner-city flats, township houses and RDP houses are increasingly hijacked by local mafias, without the government intervening. Taxi bosses and drivers are perceived to be above the law. They get away with the most chilling transgressions; while ordinary drivers get flagged for looking honest.

Shebeen, taverns and other informal drinking holes are now increasingly mushrooming without any apparent rules in townships. Very few have licences. If they do, they rarely stick to the licencing conditions, being noisy, opening late into the night and providing alcohol to the underage. They are the epitome of the lawlessness culture.

The Ramaphosa government must clamp down decisively against the petty breakers of the law: those who litter, drinking alcohol in public and behave unruly. All these different assortment of local deviants only copy the example of the party political, public and elected criminals.

But the government must also take on the criminals within the police, prosecuting and criminal justice system, who, through their extortion of honest citizens, undermine the credibility of the law.

Lastly, law enforcement, appear to be a threat to only honest and law-abiding citizens; not to the real criminals, the gangsters, rogue politicians and local strongmen. The law also appear to be targeting only the honest. They have spread a culture of lawlessness, breakdown and decline.

The breakdown of law and order deter not only large investors, but also local SMMEs, entrepreneurs and new innovative initiatives. They cause community breakdown, loss of social cohesion and entrepreneurship. Ramaphosa’s promise of a new dawn, will quickly fade, unless law and order is restored, by publicly dealing with the untouchables in the political, criminal and taxi world.

William Gumede is the Chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation (www.democracyworksfoundation.org); and the author of South Africa in BRICS (Tafelberg).