By: Clyde Ramalaine
The Chair of Transparency International Delia Ferreira asserts, “People’s indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow.” Is it possible that we are living through an epoch of convenient indifference when the current political leadership is not held accountable for COVID-19 corruption?
There are times presidents wish they can delete a week in political office. There will be few who would challenge the assertion that Ramaphosa arguably had his most destructive-to image-politics week in office. Ramaphosa appeared gaunt as he read his statement. In a sense, he reminded us of the time when he had to announce his first cabinet after he consulted with the ANC and thought he could still make last-minute changes to the names. Ramaphosa the one who decided to hang his CR17 campaign on morality in pursuit of the convenient phantom of state capture that the DA and later he accused his predecessor of. Matamela the one who after 800 days of rudderless leadership and a slew of summits would in March 2020 emerge as the COVID-19 Lockdown Emperor who entertained no questions after his official addresses to SA must have died a thousand deaths this last ten days. He saw his self-created image of being clean evaporates blown away by a tempestuous and political life-threatening PPE corruption hurricane. South Africa’s owes our collective knowledge on this corruption to the sterling investigative work of Independent News Limited’s head of investigations Piet Rampedi who checkmated Ramaphosa into and identity of the new face of corruption.
Lest we forget that in his first speech as president of SA Ramaphosa promised to “turn the tide of corruption.’’ He vowed to “end the plunder of public resources and to put behind the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in our country’s public leaders.” These words sounded noble and easy to articulate because he was leaning on the contrarian sentiment against his predecessor. He just did not plan to have to admit his administration has its unique corruption ala COVID-19 health crisis. He never anticipated he increasingly would be the reincarnation of what he accused his predecessor of in frames of nine wasted years.
We know this because on the Thursday that Ramaphosa was scheduled to inform the nation of cabinet’s decision on the 2020 school-going academic year he had to engage the effluvium of corruption not just on his watch but as close as his spokesperson. We all knew that the decision on schools like so many would ultimately be a political decision since the ANC remains carceral if not subservient to its tripartite partners, in particular organised labour and its vocal and domineering members. Ramaphosa had to concede that there was no unanimous agreement on the decision on the school year, resulting in a compromised staggered month of school-closure and re-opening that sees matriculants extended one week and the rest of the grades from R to 11 to four weeks frames of reopening. Yet while education was the key factor for the briefing, the president could not resist addressing the elephant in the room. That being the unfolding substantial claims of mass-scale corruption uniquely linked to his COVID-19 lockdown era that started in mid-March 2020.
It is said the science and art of communication is to listen beyond the words and hear what is not being said since words often are used as a means to an end and can pretend short blankets that can’t cover the feet and head at the same time. What Ramaphosa didn’t want to admit or say, he was compelled to concede indirectly, that being that the R500bn that SA boasted it availed for this era is deeply compromised since legitimate claims of corruption are emerging. So, Mr President against his wishes had to concede to SA in the admission that his administration stands accused to have overseen emerging corruption that involves R500bn. It is a given that Ramaphosa was briefed on this unfolding situation and he it appears he was advised to deflect and to sound proactive and in control by sharing that he has brought together four investigative functionary institutions to spend time and resources to deal with this expeditiously. Needless to note these institutions slave under the toxic combination of weight of dysfunction, grave lack of capacity, and swamped under caseloads of historical corruption that hitherto have netted no significant criminal of corruption. How the president may have been deceived to assume a mere announcement would bring smiles and cheers only his crew of spin-doctors know.
While the president took refuge in the advice of his spin-doctors that this action on his part would be adequate to appease SA, he miscalculated the true state of lack of confidence that people of SA has in him or what he leads. Ramaphosa rudely discovered that the SA that was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on March 26, 2020, when he draped in army camouflage metaphorically declared war on COVID-19, had long run out of patience, trust and confidence in his leadership. This erosion of trust and confidence is directly linked to the slew of lockdown evils that manifested in deaths, confusing regulations, presidential arrogance to refuse to deal with his dispatched marauding and wanton soldiers, inconsistent implementation of regulations, backtracking on declared decisions, indecisiveness, him seen as being controlled by his COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini – Zuma, a wholly dysfunctional bunch of ministers who fell in love with ego-tripping in daily updates while they dismally failed to operationalize what was agreed at a high level as a macro-plan.
Ramaphosa perhaps in shock discovered that his political capital is long in deficit and he was not going to be trusted regardless of his choice of words, intonation, pouty face or his vain attempt to sound authoritative.
Why then is it that Ramaphosa’s announcement of swift action led by a combination of the SIU, HAWKS, NPA etc. rang hollow? Well, I would postulate the elephant in the room is those fingered are very close to Ramaphosa. So close that it can set alight his straw-house and imagery of his self-invoked sainthood, since it is his spokesperson Khuselo Diko, aka ‘Queen Diko’ as some in the presidency were instructed to respect her by.
Rampedi’s meticulous work on the unravelling of PPE- corruption that includes Gauteng MEC of Health Bandile Masuku, his wife Loyiso the Member of Mayoral Committee (MMC) of Corporate and Shared Services, who is also a director of the CIPC registered company along with Khuselo’s husband, Madzikane II Thandisiwe Diko laid bare a web of entanglement. The latter finds himself in another storm where he stands accused of having deceived many with his claims of being a ‘King’ when there is no legal basis for this claim but only an acknowledgment of his chieftaincy. Thandisiwe Diko’s company Royal Bhaca Projects stands accused of having benefitted to the tune of R125m from state-initiated expenditure that normally is understood in tendering. We also learned that despite denials on the part of the Diko couple in their conflicting communications strategy attempts R80 million was already paid to the company in question through a secondary entity Ledla Structural Development as the Sunday Independrnt leads.
Rampedi would show us how the proverbial dots are linked when he would reveal how the ANC-Gauteng led Government understood in Health description became a crime scene that confirms gross scale corruption. We learned that Madzikane II Thandisiwe Diko was also promoted by Ramaphosa’s Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni, who just came out of two-month sanction for violating COVID-19 Lockdown rules. Ndabeni had appointed Diko to the SITA board of directors. As if that was not enough, we learned that Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande another Ramaphosa confidante had apparently appointed Inkosi Diko on a 5-year term board appointment. Following this, the EFF in Joburg established that Inkosi Thandisiwe Diko was appointed through the Governance Unit of the City which directly reports to Masuku to the Audit Committee of the Joburg Markets Board. To add insult to injury, it didn’t take long to hear that mini-bus taxis will soon boast customized personal protective equipment. The proverbial eyebrows were raised when the name of Andile Ramaphosa, the Bosasa connected son, of the president, was also named as one of those identified as a beneficiary. Ramaphosa now had staff, close confidante in cabinet and family allegedly linked questions as part of those who have been raiding the COVID-19 coffers of billions.
Hence his announcement of a State response to the aforementioned allegations of corruption manifesting in combination of investigative bodies rang hollow because Ramaphosa through this became the face of COVID-19 corruption. Ramaphosa discovered that there was no 9-wasted-years to blame, no Jacob Zuma his predecessor to hide behind for entrenched corruption or the ghost of state capture. He, Ramaphosa had now replaced Zuma as the one to answer how billions were spent in a very short period of 120 days on corrupt PPE-acquisitions.
On another level this announcement sets the tone for a scripted outcome, that being the focus will be the small fries, for example, some guy who in the Oliver Tambo Region of the known dysfunctional Eastern Cape claimed R4,8 million on a handwritten tax invoice. This while the big guns who stole hundreds of millions are exonerated and thus given a free-pass. It does not take rocket science to appreciate that the president cannot afford to have people too close to him nailed for corruption.
We know this because the Gauteng Provincial Secretary Jacob Khawe, [former husband of Khuselo Diko] was at pains to insist that the province had impressed upon its Premier David Makhura to ensure the SIU concludes its investigations on Bandile Masuku, Loyiso and Khuselo Diko respectively whom all took leave of absence from their duties. It is self-evident that Khawe as an ANC politician deems it appropriate to believe Gauteng Premier can dictate to the SIU how long its investigations should take. South Africa wake up smell the coffee, these investigations by itself may be white-washed events unless we tell ANC politicians of Gauteng you have no right to dictate to the SIU or unless we accept politicians can make these demands?
For the first time, he could not hide behind I didn’t know, he could not take ease of comfort in exonerating himself as he so often with Zuma as purported centre had attempted to do. He could not in this instance convene a press-club meeting with SANEF editors to congratulate and thank them for having opened his eyes to how deep state capture runs. We know he never called Piet Rampedi to say thank you for helping us see and hear of this evil. Some waited for Ramaphosa the public relations new dawn guy, the one who bellowed Masekela’s “Thuma Mina” and the purported new broom to convene a meeting with editors though none was forthcoming.
So, what is the elephant in the room in our discourse? The elephant in the room is the hypocrisy of vocal and convenient moralists who knew how to be loud and speak up on state capture with Jacob Zuma and Guptas as the focus. These include the slew of convenient Foundations who in lacklustre fashion give less spirited opaque statements on the unfolding iniquity of a State embroiled in fresh corruption. These include the chameleon clergy that also ventured a cold-breakfast attempt to be seen to have said something. Nowhere is there any energy to be direct in addressing the president. The SAVE- SA crowd is dead quiet. The slew of academics that could unpack state capture in apparent claims of academic proof are we must surmise engrossed in their research work who knows possibly funded by the outcomes of the February 2018 firing of Ramaphosa’s predecessor.
If the controversial and hypocritical Foundations, clergy and academics are wholly absconded in silence not to read the riot act to this president and his administration we are led to ask how far does the tentacles of capital stretched that produced the R1bn ANC President? While one may accept as I had long anticipated this concocted silence from an orchestrated crowd that share an ambivalent morality regardless of description, nowhere is the hypocrisy more apparent but with mainstream media. Expressions of media in identities of the Daily Maverick, amaBhugane, Sunday Times among others introduced us in another season to their skills of obtaining emails and linking the proverbial dots, in this season are wholly incapable to repeat what they in another season became famous. The Sunday Times in its usual sense of deflection instead leads with stand off between Ramaphosa and Secretary General Ace Magashule on the efficacy of who must lead internal ANC investigations on the PPE corruption. Needless to say this attempt of the Sunday Times is again to pit Ramaphosa as fighting for a clean ANC and Magashule the natural evil.
Lest we forget how the aforementioned news platforms in expert form ran campaigns on Ramaphosa’s predecessor and the infamous Gupta brothers yet in this season despite overwhelming evidence lack the courage of conviction, verve and moral obligation to question a president. These are eerily silent and absent in attempting to get to the truth of what transpired to the billions we are learning stolen in the 120 days of COVID-19 and its inconsistent slew of conflicting regulations. South Africa awaits them to ask the simple but necessary questions, Mr President why is it that your handpicked and trusted staff, family and friends are allegedly accused of these heinous crimes against the masses of South Africa? How does it impact you, what does it mean for you in both substance and sustenance of your leadership? They not asking Mr President we had concerns from the start, and you gave us assurances are you taking responsibility for this corruption? Mr President, why should we have any confidence in you or your administration when you have recently incurred a debt of R70bn from the IMF, which we fear will go the same way as the R500bn?
Thus, the elephant in the room is why Ramaphosa is not personally held accountable as is reasonable in this setting? Why are Premiers like Gauteng David Makhura and all others where PPE corruption occurred not personally held answerable for what their provinces contributed to these crimes of corruption?
Are we to surmise that the so-called moral in unison ones have absconded from basic reasoning, or are they all at the trough that made the ANC’s most expensive president in history? What control does Ramaphosa have if any over the groups herewith mentioned that they cannot let the courage of their apparent convictions and the arch of morality stand in this instance? Are we to surmise they were mere tools and weapons as limited to a specific ANC proxy-political personality contest that now is a historical fact? Are these all sworn to an unholy allegiance of loyalty to a politician, that hitherto has failed to present sustainable economic solutions and a concrete plan for redress for South Africa despite his touted billionaire status.
Unfortunately, one who remains ideologically suspect and vacillating on insincerity, therefore, suspended in distrust. Yet, one who despite a capacity to sweet-talk with broad smiles often leans on the verbiage of dysfunctional adjectives in describing policies, meetings and plans with words such as beautiful or tremendous.
So, ready yourself for scripted ‘investigations’ around a heavily reduced R2bn and not the R500bn as the central focal point for these investigations. The truth is South Africa needs a COVID-19 State Capture of Corruption Commission to unearth the full extent of what happened to every contract the Ramaphosa administration and structures entered in this season.
Pope Francis reminded us, “Corruption is paid for by the poor.” We know this is true because the corruption of a COVID-19 crisis as all forms of corruption by the political elite in cahoots with the economic elite inevitably impacts the poor negatively since the much needed resources and services never reach those that need it most.
How dare the vocal ones be silent when the poor suffers? Why are the dots not naturally linked to where it belongs and why is accountability not demanded of the highest office?
Can any self-respecting media platform, the cross-breed of clergy, academics, civil society formations / foundations and business be this indifferent not to hold the president directly accountable and to settle for him attempting to hold a moral high ground when the stench comes from his backyard?