Corruption, negligence and violence: Can Ramaphosa turn back time?


When looking at South Africa’s recent headlines, it is impossible to miss Jacob Zuma’s frequent appearances. The once ‘people’s president’ now stands on trial for twelve charges of fraud, one of racketeering, two of corruption and one of money laundering.

During his time in office, Zuma was widely viewed as a glorified, colourful and controversial man of the people. Born into poverty and exiled during his fight against apartheid, Zuma rose to power as the 4th President of South Africa in May 2009. Despite his revered status in South African society, towards the end of his term the light of his hidden wrongdoings began to shine through the cracks of his Presidency. After facing his 9th vote of no-confidence in 2018, Zuma was finally forced out of his own party (the African National Congress), and is now being targeted by his successor Cyril Ramaphosa to make sure he pays for his crimes against the country. But with so many charges against Zuma’s name, and so many other culprits at large, is Ramaphosa any closer to knuckling down on the deep-seated corruption in South Africa?

Ramaphosa has been pledging to rid South Africa of her corruption since 2017, and following the successful arrest and pending trial of the former State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, it seems that the South African people have reason for hope. Bongo, who served under Zuma, is accused of interfering with an inquiry into corruption at state power utility Eskom. Bongo asked the inquiry’s evidence leader to go on sick leave in 2017 to stall the progress, and is also alleged to have sweetened this deal with a cheque bribe. In the words of Indigo Ellis, head of Africa research at Verisk Maplecroft, Bongo’s “detention is a welcome sign to investors concerned about the plight of governance in South Africa”. However, Bongo has been released on bail and his trial already postponed twice, so hopes of a swift prosecution are perhaps dashed. To make matters worse, this is the only trial which has been pursued in relation to corruption since Ramaphosa’s rise to Presidency in 2018 – not to mention, the culprit of the crime is a relatively “low-hanging fruit” in a party wherein corruption is rife, and the main offender – former party leader Zuma – is still at large.

One of the most scandalous accusations of corruption is Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta family. It is alleged that the family bribed Zuma in order to guarantee their influence over cabinet appointments. However, this parliamentary offence stretches beyond Ramaphosa’s reach. Speaking in Johannesburg, Lord Hain alleged that the banks were instrumental in helping the Guptas hide their source of illicit gains through a network of offshore bank accounts and shell companies; “they continued because of course the corporates concerned… were making money out of it”. This case of corruption, despite being the most prominent, is the partial fault of both a major corporation, and a family which is not subject to South-African governance. Whilst there are anti-corruption measures in place – namely the group “The Hawks” which target organised crime, economic crime and corruption – it is perhaps both unsurprising and disheartening to hear that these were established by the Zuma administration in 2008, and are therefore - without a doubt - somewhat knowledgeable of, and perhaps complicit in, the corruption which is so intrinsic to the ANC as it stands. In the largest corruption case, the President stands potentially powerless.

Ramaphosa faces a myriad of issues in his country, and corruption is only one of them. With rising femicide, and corporations such as mobile operator MTN-Group contributing to human rights violations in Sudan, as well as the deep-set corruption in his party, the measures necessary to even broach the issue of corruption seem impossible to launch in the remainder of his Presidential term. And with Zuma as the key offender in these crimes – whose Zulu name Gedleyihlekisa translates to “the one who smiles while grinding his enemies” - it seems these crimes will not be solved easily.

Image - Flickr (Government ZA)

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