Contrary to the claim made by South African journalist, William Shoki, in his article “South Africa Is Falling Apart”, published on 28 July 2021 in The New York Times, the recent spate of unrests in two provinces Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – which are the biggest (at 35%) and third biggest (at 16%) contributors to the country’s GDP – have not plunged the country into a bottomless pit of decay and destruction, but rather were symptomatic of the last kicks of the dying horse of large scale corruption and infantile populism to protect it. This ushered the phase that the country has entered into since 2018 when Mr Cyril Ramaphosa was appointed by the ruling party, African National Congress (ANC), to save the country from the clutches of state capture that allegedly ravaged the country for “nine wasted years” (as President Ramaphosa described the period) as it transitioned into a new phase in which the rule of law and accountability were supreme.
The recent crisis in this transitional period was a carbon copy of what was described by Antonio Gramsci when he mused: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
The ANC’s policy architects such as Joel Netshitenzhe, a member of the party’s national executive committee member warned on 2 December 2018 during “Umrabulo Dialogue” which was held by the ANC’s OR Tambo School of Leadership at the University of Johannesburg that the battle against state capture was to be a protracted battle as those implicated would do everything in their power to evade jail time. While the State Capture Commission, headed by Deputy Chuef Justice was appointed during President Jacob Zuma’s tenure after recommendation by the then Public Protector, Prof Thuli Madonsela (and the ruling by the Constitutional Court that the PP’s recommendations were binding), the ruling party was warned it wasn’t going to be plain sailing: “Those efforts will not be a walk in the park. Experience over the past ten months has demonstrated that the struggle to unravel corruption and state capture will be complex and protracted. The beneficiaries of corruption and state capture will not give up without a fight, now especially as orange overalls beckon,” Netshitenzhe said matter-of-factly.
The dialogue was themed “Texture and Tendencies of State Capture, Corruption and Ethical Leadership”. Senior government officials such as the Director-General of the Department of Public Service and Administration, Professor Richard Levin, were also billed as speakers.
Furthermore, Netshitendzhe indicated while the new administration’s attempts at uprooting state capture (by acting on the subsequent recommendations from the commission) the civil society and progressive political parties needed to maintain constant vigilance to protect the national renewal project and those found wanting to be held accountable.
It’s worth noting that a month before the outbreak of the unrests, President Ramaphosa reassured the nation: “Many steps are being taken to rid our country of corruption. And those who are corrupt, who have pursued corrupt ways will continue to fight and fight to the end because their life revolves around corruption. But we will end it and they will go where they belong.”
While detractors see the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma as the catalyst of the unrests, to many South Africans it was the entrenchment of the country’s constitutional democracy – that eloquently proffers the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the state. To many this took the country to the legacy of its founding father, Nelson Mandela, who said after his release from a 27-year imprisonment: “I wish to reiterate here the ANC’s total commitment to the rule of law . . . [W]e praise those judges and magistrates whose have defended the integrity and independence of the courts and whose enlightened judgments are beacons of hope for the future.”
To walk the talk, Mandela then agreed to appear in the High Court hearing of what has become known as the SARFU case – when Louis Luyt, the President of the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU) hurled President Mandela before the High Court objecting to the commission that the global icon had set up to investigate alleged racism, graft and nepotism in rugby. While he could have used his position and global stature to defy the summons, the statesman declared “nobody was above the law”, so he had to set a good example to the citizenry by fully participating in the hearing. He became the first sitting president to defend his decision in court.
Indeed those who are alleged to have benefitted from state capture largesse or corruption in general are bound to oppose the nascent order, as Netshitenze has warned. This has seen an opposition party such as the Economic Freedom Fighters’ leadership – as journalist William Shoki has indicated in his article – changing tune and supporting the very president they helped to oust.
They have to be nervous snd anxious. After taking office, President Ramaphosa immediately embarked on a process to rebuild and strengthen the law enforcement agencies that were destroyed by the previous administration – these included the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the Hawks and other organs of the state.
Although the unrests erupted in two of South Africa’s nine provinces, they are the most populous – and the rapid population growth which doesn’t commensurate with development of their economies may have laid a fertile ground for the crisis. According to Stats SA, the official national statistics agency, for the period 2016–2021, Gauteng and Western Cape are estimated to experience the largest inflow of migrants of approximately, 1 564 861 and 470 657 respectively. Gauteng still comprises the largest share of the South African population, with approximately 15,81 million people (26,3%) living in this province. KwaZulu-Natal is the province with the second largest population, with an estimated 11,5 million people (19,1%) living in this province. The demographics of the population are telling too: over 28,3% of the country’s population, which is 59 million people in total, is aged younger than 15 years (17,04 million) and approximately 9,2% (5,51 million) is 60 years or older. Of those younger than 15 years of age, the majority reside in Gauteng (21,8%) and KwaZulu-Natal (21,2%). According to Stats SA, the unemployment rate as per the expanded definition of unemployment increased by 0.6 of a percentage points to 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021. The official unemployment rate among youth aged 15 to 34 was 46.3% in first quarter of the year. This perhaps explains why the majority of the looters were the youth. It’s also worth noting the unrest’s broke out in the middle of the stringent lockdown measures intended to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These economic challenges arose before the outbreak of COVID-19 from the downgrading of South Africa to sub-investment grade by all three credit-rating agencies. These saw South Africa, according to UNCTAD’s FDI Index 2021, attracting foreign direct investments worth $5,6 billion in 2018 which unfortunately declined to $5,4 billion in 2019 and $2,6 billion in 2020 – a 46% drop compounded by the anti-COVID-19 global economic lockdowns.
Although the new FDI inflows were lacklustre, investors already in the country have expressed confidence in the new dawn launched by President Ramaphosa. After setting himself a $100 million investment target in 2018 for his five yesr administration, investors attending his annual South African Investment Council have already pledged investments worth R640 billion by November 2020 – translating into 64% achievement against his target. These investments do nothing include those made during the first half of 2021 which include the manufacturing of the vaccines in South Africa for the Africa continental market.
At the “Umrabulo Dialogue”, Netshitenzhe further said “a capable and ethical leadership” had to find expression not only in inculcating an anti-corruption culture, but also in the improvement of people’s quality of life. “Critical in this regard should be the role of the state as an instrument of redistribution as well as that of state-owned enterprises as leverage that developmental state can use to guide economic development,” he said.
Despite the country facing economic crisis and tight budgetary constraints over the years, the post-1994 democratic government has since Nelson Mandela’s presidency been providing an elaborate social welfare to ordinary citizenry – this included free hospitalisation of children, pregnant women and pensioners; a variety of social grants provided through SASSA which include grants for children whose parents are unemployed, people with disabilities and pensioners. On the education front, all public schools are free. Yes, university education is also free for students coming from less fortunate families. There’s even a quota for free electricity and water provision to designated indigent families. Beyond these, the ANC government has continued to provide free housing to ordinary unemployed or families that earned wages less than the minimum that the commercial banks set for qualification for bond financing. These services are provided by the state to uphold its constitutional obligations as the right to health, education and decent shelter are enshrined in the country’s Bill of Rights.
It is also worth noting that redressing the economic crisis isn’t a government-only project, but a multi-sectoral collaborative effort supported by the private sector and civil society. The former established the Solidarity Fund whose resources were mobilised through Business4SA – an initiative representative of key business leaders and corporates.
Here’s some reflections from my own upbringing. I was born and grew up in a relatively poor family – just like almost everyone in my rural village except for the less than ten families that owned convenience stores. My father, a Telkom migrant labourer, earned very little. We lived in a four-roomed house made from corrugated irons. – yes a four-roomed mkhukhu. The village had no access to electricity, no telephony, had dirt roads, and the villagers had to contribute every year to the building fund to build three primary and one junior secondary schools, so we didn’t have a high school. My hardworking father didn’t earn much. I knew right then that my unemployed mother, siblings and I couldn’t enjoy what other neighbours could – we didn’t have a television for a long time. So I knew I had to work my butt of to break the cycle of poverty. I knew I had to do my damnest best to overcome those challenges as my father’s credit health was weak or non-existent.
So when commentators attacked our government for not responding timeously in procuring the anti-COVID-19 vaccines and shaming the continent for its failure to manufacture the vaccine like Europe, China, Russia, UK and the USA, this took me back to my childhood in the rural village of Hammanskraal, New Eersterus. These fairly educated commentators have read about the perils of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism and its euphemism, globalisation. They read reports from our revenue service, SARS, reporting a R300 billion shortfall in revenue collection, but they still expected this country to respond as effectively as these foreign powers to the pandemic. Yes they have read former President Thabo Mbeki’s AU-commissioned study on the illicit outflows of capital Africa suffered last year – $86,6 billion, which represents over 3,7% of Africa’s GDP. Do remember there’s more hidden taken out by corporates through intercompany transactions. Yes, we behave like that family knowing quite well that their husband’s/father’s bank balance and credit health were highly compromised and yet still expected him to buy an LCD screen, eat out at least thrice a week and enjoy an affluent lifestyle because the neighbours could afford that.
Back to our recent unrests, while the state established strict measures to curb them – including deploying the army to defend strategic facilities – government cognisant of the supremacy of the constitution defied the tempting calls for the imposition of a state of emergency and decided to use the measures provided for by the less harsh state of disaster regulations. But even more humbling, ordinary South Africans – cutting across all races, gender and age – came together to rebuild their country by voluntarily cleaning the mess and communities protecting those shopping malls that weren’t vandalised such as the Maponya Mall in Soweto which was built by Richard Maponya and opened by his longtime friend and comrade, Nelson Mandela. Their mantra is noble: “All hands on deck.”
Furthermore, government announced support it will provide to business recovery to those adversely affected by COVID-19 lockdowns and the victims of the lootings. The package which includes the R5 billion in revenue measures covers benefits accruing from the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) which will be operstionalised for four months. Over and above this, government also announced payment deferrals for three months on Pay As You Earn (PAYE) for qualifying industries, as well as deferrals of excise duties on alcohol. These measures will be implemented from 1 August. Government outlined the packages which include:
- A temporary re-introduction of the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant until the end of the financial year, at a cost of R26.7 billion. The SRD grant will include support to child care-givers on an application basis. We want to make it clear that this is not a permanent social protection solution. Much work is still being done in this area, and additional borrowings to fund a consumption grant are not supported.
- Financial backing of SASRIA (a state-owned insurance company), currently of R3.9 billion, pending a regular assessment of the insurance payouts. This amount is a provision for a required capital injection should SASRIA exceed its limits. It may be revised as events unfold.
- Support to small businesses that are not covered by SASRIA will amount to R2.3 billion. These amounts are composed of reprioritisation of R1 billion and additions of R1.3 billion to the baselines of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Department of Small Business Development. These two departments will work out the modalities for assessing applications and getting the money to the correct recipients.
- R950 million of additional funds will be allocated to the Police (R250 million) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) (R700 million).
In addition to the above, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has set aside R5.3 billion for the extension of the COVID-19-TERS coverage. This will mainly cover those who have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns.
Although this isn’t adequate to resolve all the country’s economic woes, this is a step in the right direction. Yes, South Africa will emerge the winner.
As we bid farewell to the month in which we celebrate the Nelson Mandela International Day, do remember that apt slogan that I fully subscribe to: “Make everyday a Mandela Day.”
I can’t sign off without congratulating Tatjana Schoenmaker for winning Africa’s first gold medal at the current Olympics in Japan.
I wish a 59th Africa Women’s Day to all women across the continent and in the diaspora.
In conclusion, my contention is that the sun shall indeed rise upon Africa.
The Kindle version of Saul Molobi’s latest book, “Sound and Fury: The Chronicles of Healing“, is available on Amazon. The Foreword to the book was written by Kgalema Motlanthe, former President of the Republic of South Africa.