This article seeks to give an overview of the current political climate in the South African political sphere, focusing primarily on the recent events concerning corruption and the arrest of individual members of the ANC ruling party. The overarching theme of this discussion centres on the linkages between corruption and inequality, and how this interplay has an effect on good governance in South Africa.. This discussion is particularly relevant in the context of the upcoming municipal elections in the year 2021, wherein this trend may resultantly lead to the demise of the ANC era, as we see more significant public outcry on maladministration and lack of government accountability.
Overview of the South Africa Socio-Political Context
The governance system in South Africa is one that has been characterised by corruption, rising levels of inequality, and a negative track of governance. The topic of inequality is a pertinent one. South Africa is regarded as an unequal society in the world, owing to the stark realities of the different demographics represented in her dynamic, rainbow nation. The disparity between the so-called “haves” and “have-nots” is incredibly stark, with wider discrepancies resulting from further intersectionalities concerning the gender gap, youth unemployment, and the general deterioration of the nation’s macroeconomic structures. The ordinary South African citizen does not earn more than R3000 ($150) and is subjected to poor service delivery (which is often tied to one’s geographical location), high crime rates, and inadequate social development programmes. It is then not difficult to understand the rising level of frustration, but also the burning desire for urgent social change from the masses.
But the crux of the matter in South African political governance is corruption, which in the South African context includes, political nepotism, the use of public resources and in some instances, bribery. Shock and frustration from the citizenry reached an all-time high this month when it emerged that members of the political elite had enriched themselves at the expense of the mostly COVID-affected society, having dipped into relief funds which were meant to be dispersed to the broader populace. This relief, which consisted of a R350 stipend (along with other disbursements for particular groups, such as child support grant beneficiaries), was unfortunately lost through frightening misuse. It has even been reported that in some cases, personal protective equipment was procured for up to five times more than the usual amount, as the national treasury advised. And its report also identified a further possible 30,000 relief grants which are under further investigation. This report is tracking the spending of the R500 billion rand (26 billion USD), which was allocated towards COVID-relief and represented the equivalent of 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In the same vein as the examples given above, likewise, the disenfranchisement of the people as a result of government’s maladministration is a divisive matter within the nation’s politics. Following the revelation, allegations have arisen alleging that fraudulent activities resulted in the misallocation of funds and equipment, especially to schools and hospitals. Citizens began to call on the President of the Republic, Cyril Ramaphosa, to act decisively on this issue, which indeed he has already started to do. A slew of officials, many within the ANC governance structures began to receive calls for resignation as well as to offer themselves up to investigative processes according to the law. Unfortunately, this level of reform is not satisfactory for the populace, who wish to see the process extend a little further than the age-old “catch and release”. That is to say; the population would appreciate these corrupt officials facing the full brunt of the law by facing trial and being convicted for corruption. This would be the only way to reassure the nation that indeed, the government is sincere about its desires to lead by example and tackle this social concern.
Corruption within the nation has had a severe impact on the rate of development of the economy, the processes of good governance, and has equally worn down the pillars of democracy once established sanctimoniously by the forbearers of independence. The above degradation is owing to the poor political design of the current ANC regime, which has mostly impacted the levels of trust and stability amongst quarters of South African citizens. Although the government has made good strides towards addressing some of these social ills, emerging challenges have taken precedence in recent years including but not limited to poor public service delivery, corrupt practices, and lack of remedial mechanisms for reporting and receiving information on corrupt practices.
There has been increasing realisation that the nation’s developmental goals will only be achieved when good governance is fostered, and corruption is prevented. This will have a systemic link to the upholding of democracy and the stemming of inequality within the nation. These issues are becoming increasingly important in the context of the upcoming municipal elections in 2021, where ANC’s stronghold will indeed be tested. This gives rise to the question of whether the recent governmental calls for accountability amongst members of its political structures is a matter of principle or populism. That is to say, knowing the electoral outcomes at stake, the ANC seems to be attempting to steer citizen support towards it party by heeding to the demands of the citizenry, which would lead to the conclusion that this is not a legitimate social change but a desire simply to remain within power.
The Hawks, which is the prime investigative body in the country, has already arrested at least six high-profile individuals for their role in the R250-million project to audit asbestos regarding housing roofs in the Free State. Among those convicted included businessman Edwin Sodi, as well as Nthimotse Mokhesi head human settlements department as well as the former Mangaung metro mayor Sarah Mlameli. This particular group of individuals were charged with theft, fraud, money laundering and corruption. Another high-profile individual include Ace Magashule, the former premier of the Free State and current Secretary General of the ANC, have begun to anticipate possible actions against him as he stands in the middle of a R756 Million contract awarded to Superior Quality Trading from 2012 to 2016, and which was allegedly mired in the controversy.
On the 8th of February 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa began a 2-year tenure as the chairperson of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). South Africa played a significant role in creating this governance mechanism and monitoring instrument during President Thabo Mbeki’s tenure in the early 2000s, which were otherwise known as the “African Renaissance” period. The nation has accordingly injected millions of dollars to support and house the APRM secretariat, and this provides a unique moment for the South African government to steer the vision of political leadership and foster acceptable governance practices not only at home but also globally.
The country has since committed towards its second-generation review this year, which comes nearly 13 years after the first review was conducted in 2007. This comes after this very review has been postponed multiple times under the former President Jacob Zuma administration, which is not surprising given the extent of rampant corruption under this regime. To demonstrate a step away from the actions of the previous government, one of Ramaphosa’s tasks then, in addition to the repair and restoration of institutions and public confidence, will be ensuring that this review is conducted relatively and duly. To seek solutions to the governance challenges currently affecting the region includes an urgent redress of the current status quo, which would involve opening up the existing structures to the scrutiny of independent peers. Owing to how sensitive such an expedition would be, it is highly unlikely that such a process would occur unfettered. However, to be genuinely accountable to the people and restore trust, a greater sense of transparency is required from the ANC government, on the matter of the policies, programs and organs, especially if they are to regain the sympathy of the masses in time for the 2021 municipal elections.
Since independence was attained in 1994 from the Apartheid government, there has been staunch rhetoric that the ANC would rule perpetually and indefinitely. However, since this moment in history, the party received its lowest electoral support when former President Jacob Zuma received 54% of the votes, which demonstrated a significant decrease from the 62% victory witnessed in 2011. This began to signal trouble for the party as the 2019 elections approached.
As we move towards the 2021 election period, the party needs to consider its strategies moving forward, and make an earnest assessment of why voter support has declined over the years. This article supposes that the primary justification for the loss in citizen trust is stemmed primarily in the rising levels of corruption and the accompanying reduction in government accountability. Even more lamentable is the fact that the nation, which was once considered the beacon of good governance not only within the region but within the world’s political domain, is beginning to lose its lustre.
This shift in useful governance affairs has the effect of potentially impacting on the standards of good governance for fellow African countries, especially as far as South Africa and its representatives continue to hold office in regional offices such as the SADC and AU governance structures. It becomes increasingly difficult to oversee the affairs of fellow countries when internal affairs are politically mired.
Bonolo Makgale is a Programme Manager of the Democracy and Civic Engagement Unit Centre For Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She is a social justice activist with an academic interest in Governance, Politics and Democratisation in Africa. She writes for DDP in her personal capacity and her views do not represent those of the organization.