September 2, 2019

Legal process and state capture: Slow but sure

I expect that most of our readers, like me, feel a bit punch-drunk by all of the waves of bad news and negative sentiment that seem to have been relentlessly washing over us for the past few months. When Jacob Zuma was finally prised from office and Cyril Ramaphosa took the helm, we had a brief spell of euphoria (okay, Ramaphoria), when we all expected Cyril to wave a magic wand and fix all of our problems. 

 Of course, it was naïve to believe that things would turn around overnight. Or in a week. Or a month.  South Africa has been through a decade of systemic looting and corruption. At many levels, this has become the norm, and the culture. Removing one president from office and chasing one family of brigands away was never going to magically make SA free of corruption and graft. I don’t think anyone had a clue just how vast and interwoven the networks of corruption and state capture were.  

The Zondo and PIC Commissions are giving us insight into just how bad things were. And, of course, the many people who have been implicated (and also those who have not yet been implicated) are still around. They are trying to preserve their own networks of graft and corruption. And they are trying to stay out of jail. So, there are many people who are working very hard to undermine the Ramaphosa government, the commissions of enquiry and the newly regenerated National Prosecuting Authority.

And because we haven’t seen anyone thrown in jail yet, the talk in the pubs and around the braais suggests a sense of resignation, a sense that the bad guys have won. But here’s the thing; they haven’t.  And they won’t.  

We are a constitutional democracy, not a tin pot dictatorship. Neither President Ramaphosa nor Shamila Batohi has the power to round up those implicated in state capture and corruption and throw them in jail. Investigations must happen. Evidence must be assembled. Cases must be prepared. Trials must be held. This must all be done properly, and it takes time. 

There were a number of occasions during the Zuma era when criminal charges were brought against people who were resisting state capture and corruption. The arrests and raids were highly publicised.  They all came to nothing.  The same would happen if the Hawks and the NPA started cases prematurely. I am pretty sure that Shamila Betohi, Godfrey Lebeya and many others are working quietly but tirelessly and that many will get their just desserts. Some may escape punishment by turning state witness; some may slip through the cracks. But I think we will see justice being done in time. 

In the meantime, we need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that South Africa has failed. Of course, South Africa has its challenges. But it also has tremendous potential. I was reminded of this this week when reading a column by Adrian Gore in Businesstech (it was originally published for the World Economic Forum). Gore the actuarial scientist sets out the reasons we have promise and he makes a lot of sense. He argues that to unlock the potential, we need to have a vision-based leadership approach, rather than a problem-centric approach.  

In his column, Gore says that such an approach involves acknowledging the progress we have made (and we HAVE made significant progress); seeing our problems as real but solvable (and they are); seeking out positive cues alongside negative ones when reading our environment; and recognising the potential of our economy and investing in it.

Gore makes the point that it is not fundamentals that drive attitudes, but attitudes that drive fundamentals. While President Ramaphosa, Pravin Gordhan, Shamila Batohi and the rest fight their battles, the rest of us need to change our attitudes. We need to believe that we can make SA work; not that we are all going to sit by and watch it sink.   

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