Reflections on the Zondo Commission
The Zondo and Nugent Commissions of Inquiry will in the next few weeks and months drill down, hopefully hard, on the extent of State capture and the sorry state of affairs at the revenue collection agency. While the sordid details have begun to emerge at the Zondo Inquiry, particularly after testimony by former Deputy Finance Minister, Mcebisi Jonas, the extent of harm caused and culpability for destruction wrought on the country must take centre stage, lest the felons escape justice and the law.
For most South Africans, the outcomes of the commissions of inquiry will confirm what many know and understand about politics, economics and society in contemporary South Africa: it is fragile and increasingly costly. Key institutions of government were left in tatters and as Natasha Marrian writes in a feature story in the Financial Mail (30 August 2018), “The bane of SARS”, “the evidence before the Commission thus far is clear: the restructuring was essentially aimed at fixing what was by no means broken”. SARS went, in the words of Minister Pravin Gordhan – one of the first witnesses at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry – from, “a world-class efficient, respected tax and customs administration” to one sunk under scandal and a R50-billion revenue collection shortfall. This, on Tom Moyane’s watch, with an exodus of senior staff and destruction of key business units, including its enforcement and compliance units.
Testimony before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry has already provided colourful and frightening detail, including threats of death and offers of princely sums of money to play ball. Mcebisi Jonas’ verbatim quote at the Commission was chilling. He recalled an encounter with one of the Gupta brothers, “you must understand that we are in control of everything; we are in control of the NPA; we are in control of the Hawks; we are in control of national intelligence; so we are in full control and the old man will do everything we tell him to do. The old man wants to make you the minister of finance”.
The old man and his gangsters have brought the country to its knees. They have not only destroyed institutions of State but crucially caused the glue holding society together to come unstuck, through a concerted project focused on racial nationalism. The effect of this strategy has been to coarsen the debate and deflect attention away from that which ails South Africa. Civility and respect and the imperative to build national unity based on the values of the Constitution are being eroded and replaced by gratuitous violence and the re-racialisation of society.
Municipal service delivery protests are an interesting barometer of the loss of respect and civility and the wanton destruction of property that accompanies protest. This, while StatsSA reported recently that public institutions were spending far less on capital expenditure, so prospects of replacing land, buildings, cars and equipment destroyed are increasingly more remote. The impact on the poor will be the greatest.
Heese and Allan, economist and MD of Municipal IQ respectively, wrote in Business Day (29 August 2018) that, “the sustained series of service delivery protests over the last three months is a record for a single quarter since we (Municipal IQ) started keeping a tally in 2004. In addition, protests staged against municipal performance (or lack thereof) have become more violent in 2018, according to data from our Municipal Hotspots Monitor, with 9 out of every 10 protests impinging on the rights of others to go about their daily lives – whether it be to commute safely, attend school or keep a business running – without fear of looting and arson”. The violence, criminality and crucially the imposition of the will of a few protestors often results, write the authors of the article, “in a torn social fabric where grievances are lost and protestors more likely to be criminalised than heard”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has steadfastly assumed the task of re-building a climate for investors. He is seeking to understand what went so badly wrong with the country over the last decade, through a series of task teams. It would behove him to pay as much attention to fixing the social fabric as a critical priority – if the project to rebuild SA Inc is to gain momentum. Mistrust, racial slurs and innuendo are on the ascent and firm and unambiguous leadership that holds the values and tenets of the Constitution must manifest.
Civil society is also not immune from efforts to rejuvenate the agenda to develop tools, programmes and processes to educate people of the values and responsibilities associated with democratic behaviours and the imperative to operate within the Rule of Law. For its part, the Centre for Unity in Diversity will shortly release a civics handbook for students. The goal: to build new generations of active citizens who will protect and promote legal behaviours, political tolerance, trust and civic duty within the framework of our constitutional democracy. We must collectively ensure that hope, while fragile, does not fade.
Zohra Dawood is the director at the Centre for Unity in Diversity