As the ANC heads towards its national conference, it is not just state institutions such as the intelligence community that is falling victim to factional battles. Parliament, state-owned enterprises and even academia are all being used to wage these factional wars. What will be left of these institutions after the end of the year?

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. The words of the American philosopher George Santayana ring loudly as the African National Congress once again heads towards its national conference. As before, it is using state institutions to fight factional battles to ensure victory for a certain slate.

In the run-up to the Polokwane conference of the ANC, South Africans now know that a number of state institutions were used, wittingly or unwittingly by political leaders, in order to fight factional wars within the ANC. The security cluster, in particular, fell victim to this abuse.   

The intelligence community, the police, the then Scorpions, the prosecuting authority, among others were used in order to pursue a particular outcome at Polokwane, the on the record and off the record views of the the NDPP Mr Bulelani Ngcuka  is their for all to see. In turn, entities such as the SABC were co-opted, together with other media outlets, to engage in the smear campaign against Jacob Zuma. 

The revelation of the contents of Deputy-President Cyril Ramaphosa’s private emails has some is the ANC once again pointing out that state institutions are being abused for factional reasons. The ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, speaking at a press conference, condemned the alleged use of state institutions in the Ramaphosa matter (yet to proven – we still await formal complaint to the Inspector General of Intelligence by Ramaphosa) and warning that the continued misuse of state institutions could ultimately lead to the demise of the ANC. Importantly, Mantashe ascribed this abuse to being ‘apartheid tricks’. Indeed, the practice is not new but it seems that the ANC is simply not learning from history.

Yet it seems that abuse of state machinery is only identified when the security cluster is involved. Of late, other institutions too have become the battle ground for ANC factions. One such institution is parliament. Correctly so, the opposition has bounced on the opportunity to gang up with a number of ANC MP’s, since the eighth vote of no confidence, in order to ‘hold the executive accountable’. But holding the executive to account is far from what ANC MP’s are really doing. Instead what is happening is cheap politicking and using any opportunity to score points against the opposing faction.

One example is the current interrogation of public enterprises in the hope to prove state capture. Note, not to understand and bury state capture once and for all, rather to prove state capture. We all know that state capture exists because it existed before 1994 already and it continued to exist after 1994. Sadly, what we are witnessing is football match with public enterprises being used as the ball in the ANC’s factional battles. Those, in the ANC, pursuing the witch-hunt do so not to preserve our state-owned enterprises as an asset of the South African people. Rather they engage in this fight to gain popularity ahead of the national conference in December and possibly because they have lost business from state owned enterprises which they enjoyed before.

A group of academics recently wrote a paper titled: Betrayal of the Promise: How the Nation is Being Stolen. The paper received much factional and media coverage. In a public debate, not too long ago, Professor Mark Swilling, the lead author, admitted that the group took shy of eight weeks to compile the report. The South African Communist Party saw it fit to have a presentation done at its Conference on this report. The academics were clearly determined to get something out before the SACP’s and the ANC’s national conference despite the enormous damage such a poorly academic piece of work could do to our SOE’s and the South African state.

A response was written to this paper called In defence of the Academic: State Capture and the Failure to Deconstruct the Apartheid Shadow State. Among others, the response critiqued Betrayal of the Promise as being void on both a conceptual and methodological level. The critique suggested that it was a shoddy piece of academic work. For example, the shadow state did not emerge under the Zuma administration; state capturing and kitchen cabinets were phenomena during the Apartheid days already. Therefore, the shadow state as a concept, developed by these academics, is flawed because it is an ahistorical study. If one wishes to understand institutions, the informal institutions of the shadow state and state capture, then one needs an historical analysis. Betrayal of the Promise furthermore relies primarily on newspaper clippings. It is impossible to do qualitative research of quality, with this scope, within eight weeks. 

The portfolio committee on public enterprises heard a presentation by these academics of Betrayal of the Promise but refused to hear the author of In defence of the Academic. It did not serve their factional interests to hear an opposing view, after all an ‘academic’ smoking gun is what they wanted. They were not interested in allowing for a thorough investigation or full comprehension of the phenomenon of state capture. Rather what both sides of the portfolio committee are interested in is a cheap shot at headlines caring very little about the future of state owned enterprises in South Africa.

What Betrayal of the Promise does is simply provide factional bullets for the ANC. It offers very little research into models, even based on international case studies, in how we are going to defeat state capture in South Africa, no matter who is governing. 

We have an idea of the future of SOE’s under a Democratic Alliance led national government. Well at least Helen Zille’s DA maybe not Mmusi Maimane’s. We are not sure what substance the Economic Freedom Fighters have to offer to the debate but one could guess that they would want to keep SOE’s within the state’s hands. However, what will the state of these SOE’s be when political parties have stopped playing political football with them?

What South Africans need is a multi-partisan approach to working with, not against, the Department to resolve issues of state capture. Confidence in SOE’s does not come from executives and the boards of these SOE’s rather confidence in the SOE’s comes directly from the people’s representatives. If the people’s representatives keep throwing mud at the state’s assets the mud will stick and what state will they inherit?

Every political party shoot themselves in the foot when they think they can use SOE’s as a political battlefield. In fact, what this shows is how short-sighted they are. If they are in opposition they may believe that they will never govern and therefore SOE’s will never be their responsibility. If they are in the ANC, then they have no idea that the state of SOE’s will still be waiting for them in January 2018 and then who will they blame?
It is not only the security cluster that is being used by the ANC to wage its factional war. Parliament, SOE’s and even academia all seem to be falling victim this time round. With the crop of public representatives that we currently enjoy at the moment, we remain doomed it seems.

Wesley Seale teaches Politics at Rhodes University in South Africa

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