Join us on the People’s March on 7 August

Ending Zuma’s corruption is a prerequisite to achieving social justice

Photo of billboard

Billboard calling for participation in march to demand no confidence vote in President Jacob Zuma and his recall. Photo via Twitter (photographer unknown)

By Zackie Achmat

1 August 2017

On Monday 7 August, the day before the no-confidence vote, thousands will gather at Keizersgracht Street at 3pm and march to Parliament demanding that the ANC recall President Jacob Zuma. I intend to be there. Two questions immediately arise: Why the focus on Zuma when racism, sexism, inequality and unemployment are largely structural? Why the clamour about “state capture” now if capitalist interests have administered the South African state from its inception?

Our state is not an innocent experiencing the first blush of capitalist capture. The Dutch East India Company enslaved people of the East and committed genocide in the process of establishing a colonial state. The Jameson Raid at the behest of Rhodes, the bombing of Fordsburg during the Rand Revolt, the Broederbond and the Marikana Massacre amount to a consistent pattern of the state serving naked moneymaking. Almost a century before apartheid, hut and poll taxes were imposed as a means of coercing at least some Black Africans into the wage labour system needed to build mining dynasties like the Oppenheimers’. Old wealth remains concentrated in a few historically privileged hands. In the best of times these can exercise outsized influence on our democracy through the funding of political parties which is secret.

But I hope to convince you to join us on 7 August. Here are six reasons why:

1. Billions are being stolen

In her final report our courageous former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, described state capture as the “power to influence the appointment of Cabinet Ministers and Directors in Boards of SOEs [state owned entities] and leveraging those relationships to get preferential treatment in state contracts, access to state provided business finance and in the award of business licenses.” She found that the Gupta family had this power and was being assisted in exercising it by President Zuma and others. Few honest people now doubt this.

The essence of state capture is the theft of billions of rands through SOEs like Transnet and Eskom. The recent tsunami of stealing began when Zuma removed Barbara Hogan as Minister of Public Enterprises, making way for Malusi Gigaba and later Lynne Brown who facilitated theft of the state itself. The board composition of the SOEs was changed, bringing in people like Dudu Myeni and Ben Ngubane. Executives like Siyabonga Gama, Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh arrived. All of these people have relationships with Zuma, his son Duduzane or the Guptas. They awarded gigantic contracts to companies like Trillian, Tegeta, Oakbay and Tequesta, all Gupta-linked companies, often run through their “fourth brother” Salim Essa. Very little work is done, but billions are paid, ending up in Dubai, India or elsewhere.

If the R1.8 trillion Russian nuclear deal goes through the theft will reach new heights, affecting generations to come.

2. Ending corruption is a prerequisite for equality and social justice

Mcebisi Jonas, who was fired as Deputy Minister of Finance after refusing a R600m bribe from the Guptas, delivered a bold speech in May in which he admitted, “There is scope for using our core economic institutions more boldly to drive fundamental economic change”. He acknowledged that “the South African economy is in dire need of a major overhaul” and that there is “no denying that the economy needs to be radically transformed”.

But citing international precedents, he explained how radical transformation projects have repeatedly failed because of corruption and social division. “Any programme of radical economic transformation must be anchored in a much stronger democratic consensus among people and institutions,” he argued.

Jonas continued: “Nationalisation in a context of entrenched corruption, weak corporate governance, patronage rather than meritocratic appointments, and disdain for the bottom-line (if our existing state companies are anything to go by), will not deliver improved outcomes with respect to employment, poverty reduction and reduced inequality.”

If there isn’t a “zero-tolerance corruption environment” then “indigenisation programmes often serve as little more than thinly veiled attempts of politically-connected elites to capture rents”.

So “dealing with corruption and the integrity of the state becomes a prerequisite for effective black empowerment and racial transformation of the economy.”

This is the critical point. Jonas is right that tackling corruption is not an alternative to fundamental economic transformation: he is saying it is a key to unlocking it. The two must go hand in hand. And that is why #UniteBehind’s People’s March will be addressed by Mcebisi Jonas.

3. We can fight apartheid corruption while we fight today’s corruption

Hennie van Vuuren and Open Secrets are bringing to light the mountains of corruption of the apartheid era. As Geoff Budlender noted in his report into the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital, there is “also a need for full exposure and accountability in respect of wrongs committed in the past … during the apartheid era or in the democratic era.”

But, he correctly advised, “The need to put a stop to abuse which is taking place now cannot be held hostage to the need for investigations of our past. Those who propose this will fairly be suspected of attempting to prevent or delay the ending of the abuse of public power and public resources which is currently taking place.”

I would add that those who sit on the fence are enabling the stealing. It’s time to get off the fence.

4. The future of our democracy depends on stopping this

We now live in a constitutional democracy in which government is ostensibly accountable to the people. Millions of ordinary people rightly believe that the standards of a democratic government with the declared aim and constitutional duty to serve the public good should be more honest than those of colonial and apartheid degenerates. Madonsela warned “the people of South Africa … would lose faith in open, democratic and accountable government if President Zuma’s denials are proven to be false.”

In my view the loss of faith in democracy will take place if nobody is held accountable. We cannot let corruption enjoy the same impunity as it did during apartheid.

5. The criminal justice system is being destroyed

It is the unfortunate norm for governments to put the interests of elites before working class and poor people. This is something we have to continuously struggle against. But the Zuma coup is even worse than this. It only serves the interests of the narrowest gang. Therefore even the modicum of internal fairness amongst capitalists – the traditional “honour among thieves” – is done away with. Instead of a legal system skewed towards the rich which we resist, we are left with lawlessness. This can only lead to a rise in crime and violence, which will mostly affect poor people. There is nothing more anti-Black and anti-poor than that.

6. Zuma is unleashing authoritarianism, tribalism and violence

To protect their looting, Zuma and the Guptas pretend to defend “radical economic transformation”. Concocted in London, the heart of global finance capital, their use of the term discredits the genuinely revolutionary changes needed to transform our society from structural racism to equality.

To see that Zuma’s project has nothing to do with ideas we only have to look at the intolerance to reasoned discussion and debate shown by the bands of thugs known as the ANC Youth League, Black First Land First and MK Veterans Association. They want a country where media, art, science and literature are purged of innovation and dissent.

There is no shortcut to a truly liberated South Africa. After Zuma goes we will have to redouble the social justice struggle that he has set back so dearly. That is why I ask you to march with the #UniteBehind coalition. We are committed to uniting struggles post-Zuma, and setting the path towards a just and equal South Africa.

Zackie Achmat is a former ANC member and a member of the #UniteBehind Organising Secretariat.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.