Ramaphosa’s damage control exercise ahead of polls




African National Congress president Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the final election rally of the ruling party at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sunday May 5, 2019, ahead of South Africa's election on May 8. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The Digital Vibes mess exposes the hypocrisy and shallowness of the anti-corruption narrative pursued by Ramaphosa. The greedy self-dealing occurred without the involvement of Jacob Zuma who has been painted as the face of corruption, writes Professor Sipho Seepe.

The Special Investigation Unit’s Report into a contract awarded to Digital Vibes by the national Department of Health is scathing. It is littered with evidence of financial malfeasance. Corruption, fronting, fraud, money laundering, you name it, it is there.

The investigators took painstaking efforts to expose what could at best be described as a brazen daylight robbery of taxpayers’ money. The report heavily implicates Dr Zweli Mkhize, his associates and his son. The protagonists seemed bent on breaking every rule in the book.

This much was known almost three months ago when the report landed on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s desk. After reading the report, Ramaphosa came to a determination, as he publicly stated, that “there was no other way in which we could go forward and he then decided to resign”.

The release of the report is in keeping with principles of accountability. Section 195 of the Constitution directs that “transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information” in public administration. Access to information is a pillar of democracy. It enables citizens to make informed choices.

But it took a month before Mkhize tendered his resignation. Somehow the findings of the SIU report, damning as they are, did not receive priority to act on them with a sense of urgency to prevent further harm.

The cost of leadership failure is unknown and perhaps unknowable but more could be done to prevent the scale of corruption. This prevarication is perhaps at the root of the abounding perception that it is easy to get away with corruption provided you are not seen as being from a wrong faction.

At a broader level, the Digital Vibes mess exposes the hypocrisy and shallowness of the anti-corruption narrative pursued by Ramaphosa. The greedy self-dealing occurred without the involvement of Jacob Zuma who has been painted as the face of corruption. The rot seems to come from Ramaphosa’s inner circle.

FILE – The Digital Vibes mess exposes the hypocrisy and shallowness of the anti-corruption narrative pursued by Ramaphosa, says the writer. President Cyril Ramaphosa and former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. 19.02.19. File photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)
The Digital Vibes mess exposes the hypocrisy and shallowness of the anti-corruption narrative pursued by Ramaphosa, says the writer. President Cyril Ramaphosa and former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. 19.02.19. File photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

By the time Mkhize resigned, he had been roasted in the media. Ramaphosa’s decision not to fire Mkhize was calculated. Why do the dirty job when the media can do it job for you? There were other political considerations. At the time, the political atmosphere was heavily charged owing to the mishandling of the Zuma’s case by both the Constitutional Court and the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Firing Mkhize would have unleashed a perfect political storm.

In politics, timing is important. And Ramaphosa knows that very well. As he remarked: “I decided to follow my own path and I know it’s a frustrating path but I know it’s often the right path.”

The release of the report this time around is carefully considered. The release of the report, coming three months before the election, has been roundly condemned by opposition parties.

They see it as mere political grandstanding. They see it as being used conveniently and tactically to showcase Ramaphosa’s decisiveness in dealing with corruption.

For his part, Ramaphosa seized the opportunity by uncharacteristically availing himself to the ever-ready and obsequious mainstream media.

This time around, Ramaphosa has gone as far as fielding questions. Having mastered the art of obfuscation he has ensured that he does not assume any responsibility, whether through acts of commission or omission.

For some, the release of the report and its timing is nothing short of an exercise in damage control. It follows closely on the publication of the Afrobarometer survey which found that corruption had increased under Ramaphosa. In addition, the release is seen as selective.

Ramaphosa is being asked to release all SIU reports that formed the basis of forcing some of his trusted lieutenants to appear before the Zondo Commission. Doing so would prove that he is being consistent when it comes promoting transparency and accountability in government.

Consistent with this view is the view that the real test of Ramaphosa’s commitment to transparency is not when it relates to others, but also when it relates to his own affairs.

Accordingly, they have asked Ramaphosa to take the lead by releasing all the information that relates to the CR17 political funding. Instead, Ramaphosa has sought the assistance of the courts to seal his records.

These are the very courts that are eager to pontificate about the virtues of transparency when it involves others. Luckily for Ramaphosa, his wishes are granted. Not once but twice.

The silence of non-governmental organisations who have championed themselves as promoters and defenders of constitutionalism is deafening. For these organisations, the requirements for promotion of transparency is reserved for those they hate.

Finally, something had to be done to rescue the ANC from its lacklustre manifesto launch. The manifesto provided nothing new to talk about. Dictated by, and constrained by Covid-19 protocols, the launch was equivalent of two branches of the ANC. There were no sparks.

The Digital Vibes report, and the ANC Treasurer-General, Paul Mashatile, dishing out money to church goers after failing to pay its workers, provides something to talk about. When it comes to scoring own goals, you must give it to the party.

* Professor Sipho Seepe is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.