By Zwelinzima Vavi. This article was first published on Daily Maverick.

Unless South Africans stand up to reclaim the right to determine their own destiny, they are in danger of watching our beloved country becoming a predatory state. The hyenas are gathering.

The hyenas are gathering to defend themselves

A typical hyena clan is governed by very strict eating rules. The queen mother and her daughters eat first followed the father and sons and the rest of the clan can follow thereafter. Those who disturb the clan rules go hungry or get ruthlessly punished.

Those who have captured strategic sections of our economy, the state, and the political institutions that are supposed to defend our democracy have adopted the hyenas’ rules, and there is no shortage of those prepared to be subject to these rules, to let the first family eat first, with a promise that they too will eat afterwards.

If unchecked, this will deliver us into a full kleptocractic capitalist order. The timid decisions arising out of the recent ANC NEC in the wake of the Gupta debacle have exposed how vested interests will do all that they can to maintain the eating order.

By maintaining the status quo the ANC NEC has hammered another nail in the coffin of the revolutionary morality and values, characterised by selflessness that guided a once proud and heroic struggle.

In its place is a ‘me first, and to hell with everyone else’ mentality where democracy and accountability are completely sidelined. This means that the ruling elite continues to amass fortunes, while the working class and the poor continue to be excluded and suffer ever-worsening poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Every day that passes in our country, we are being taken closer to a society governed by the laws of jungle. Those currently in the driving seat have abandoned any notion of transforming our society in favour of the poor. In fact, they have declared war on the poor by adopting austerity policies that favour the rich, and by first allowing and then benefitting from the Guptarisation and pillaging of state resources.

I warned many years ago that every day that passes takes us closer to the ticking time bomb arising from catastrophic levels of unemployment and poverty.

South Africans cannot allow themselves to be bludgeoned into submission and a sense of powerlessness, or be blinded by historic loyalties, or fall into a state of denial. We are close to South Africa becoming a failed state, the serious consequences of which cannot be underestimated. To find a way forward we have to understand how this situation arose.

How did we arrive at this point?

A fundamental error some of us committed was to wear blinkers and support someone facing 783 charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering to become President. We have to admit that we were seduced by a leader who appeared to listen, and who spoke convincingly about the need to address the challenges facing the poor, and seemed to present a better option. I have already apologised over and over for my role in this. President Thabo Mbeki’s leadership style drove us straight to the arms of the President Jacob Zuma.

South Africans have to understand that this President is motivated by a deep fear that he may one day be held accountable, and have to face these charges again. After his financial advisor was sentenced to 15 years in prison, he knew, along with all those seeking to benefit from his patronage, that he had to do all that he could to avoid facing a court of law. But this is not just about one man’s desire to avoid prosecution, but the formation of a coalition of interests, united by a limitless desire to accumulate wealth, and at the expense of the poor.

From the moment he ascended to the Presidency, Jacob Zuma systematically, with military precision, engineered and redesigned the state and other structures so that he could not only avoid ever having to face the 783 charges, but also so that he could build a wall of protective patronage around himself to defend his longer-term interests.

The programme to domesticate and hollow out the organs of people’s power and state institutions helps to explain the passive and toothless response of the ANC Parliamentary majority, and the recent ANC NEC who simply buckled under pressure, despite calls for decisive action from many of those who have built the ANC and who sustained its vision in the bleak years of apartheid.

In a move that exposes the cunning and self-serving philosophy of the predatory elite, led by a President with his own opportunistic agenda, they have endorsed a wholly neo-liberal approach to the challenges faced by our society, which strengthens the hands of those who benefit from exploitation, and who turn their back on the poor while spouting revolutionary rhetoric.

This is not just a matter of the Guptas and other less known capitalist interests capturing key elements of the economy; it is also about those who are supposed to defend the democratic state surrendering it to the highest bidders, in the belief that they will not only be protected, but will also benefit. The harsh reality is that despite their slogans, their humble beginnings, and years spent in the liberation movement, they have thoroughly and consciously abandoned any progressive policies. This is especially true of all those who bleat about the need to ‘restore’ the Alliance.

What we have witnessed over the last decade in particular is the marginalisation of radical ideas, the vilification of those who do not just pay lip service to the demands of the Freedom Charter, but who actually want to see it reflected in government policies and practices. We have seen the rise of so-called ‘realists’ who now believe, in the hideous mantra of Margaret Thatcher, that there really is no alternative to neo-liberalism, and that the best that they can do is to ensure that the mass of our people accept this too.

Well, we believe they may be in for a nasty surprise!

Being tough hides no protection at all for people of South Africa

Many South Africans are genuinely confused about the current situation. Many have had to develop a very thick skin to absorb an almost daily menu of scandals and malpractices taken in their name. There is acute denialism at work. Many loyal ANC members even now refuse to accept that their leadership can behave in such a manner. How can the party of Luthuli, Mandela, Sisulu, Tambo, Kathrada, Hani, Ngoyi, Ruth First and a legion of other selfless women and men be so resolutely domesticated, and turned into nothing more than a toothless cheerleader?

Occasionally, ordinary ANC members express their anger and frustration, as at the FNB Stadium during Madiba’s Memorial service, but the machine politicians, mindful of their duty to serve their patrons, quickly move to demonise those who express dissent, and use all the means at their disposal, including illegal actions by the state apparatus, to isolate and undermine those prepared to speak truth to power.

It is painful, brutal, relentless and completely without compassion or integrity. Is it any wonder then that hundreds of thousands of our people have succumbed to remaining silent in the face of such ruthlessness?

Yet despite this, when given the opportunity, good women and men are prepared to mobilise, challenge the powerful, no longer prepared to accept everything thrown at them. These good men and women exist inside the ANC too.

The thousands who regularly engage in community struggles for service delivery are proof of a much finer tradition that continues to exist at the grass roots, as are the millions of workers in trade unions who understand the power of collective action, and are not prepared to give way without a fight. Contrary to what those in power say about these people, there are the hope for the future of our country.

The Capturing of the State and the Abuse of Power

It is worth revisiting some of the ways in which the state has been captured, domesticated and used to protect the narrow interests of a predatory elite:

1) This government’s first priorities were the 5 priorities the ANC presented to the electorate. Yet the very first area of delivery was to disband Scorpions using a widely held view, which has now been proven to be false, that the previous leadership used the Scorpions in a factional manner. Again, some of us participated in this destruction of what clearly was an independent and fearless warrior against crime and corruption.

The Scorpions were replaced by the Hawks, who today enjoy little or no credibility, precisely because they have been ruthlessly tamed; Anwa Dramat, a tried and tested MK commander, was given millions to leave so that a man from our apartheid past, General Berning Ntlemeza, who was declared by Judge Elias Matojane as “dishonest and lacks integrity and honour” and who made “false statements under oath” could be catapulted into this strategic position to head an institution that should play an absolutely critical role in the fight for justice.

It is no surprise that this man is now relentlessly pursuing Minister Pravin Gordhan. To think that the Head of the Hawks can pursue a sitting Minister without a green light from his political masters at the highest level is to bury one’s head in the sand.

2) A second target was the intelligence community, also reconstructed to prevent it from acting professionally and independently for the benefit of all of our people. All the professionals who came from MK ranks and who might have retained a loyalty to the liberation movement, were unceremoniously kicked out. Comrades such as Gibson Njenje, Moe Shaik and Jeff Maqethuka, all tried and tested senior MK commanders, were replaced by the likes of Richard Mdluli from the apartheid security police.

Most of our people did not give themselves an opportunity to understand the significance of these moves, and were persuaded that ‘security matters’ were best dealt with by those who must work behind closed doors. This was an insult to our people, which reinforced their feeling of powerlessness.

3) The re-militarisation of SAPS was part of the same plan to restructure the state to meet the needs of the elite. Old military ranks such as General were reintroduced to reinforce the myth about waging a war against crime. In fact, this was used to ensure that they never waged war on the economic and political crimes of the elite! Clueless civilians were appointed to lead SAPS, the worse example of which must surely be Riah Phiyega. This militarisation was a significant factor in the Marikana massacre.

The cold-blooded and public murder of Andries Tatane and the killing of protesters in Mothotlung were further examples of how the war against crime became the war against the poor. Yet according to their own statistics, South Africa was still losing the war against crime with 49 citizens killed every day on average. The Minister of Police revealed last year that the service has spent R34 million in golden handshakes. There is a very strong suspicion among lower ranking officers that what is left of a responsive and professional police force is being replaced by rogue elements from an inglorious past to help keep the President out of prison.

4) In a blatant example of overriding due processes for factional advantage, the current Police Minister Nathi Nhleko was brought from the cold and out of a fracas with Minister of Labour, about corruption in the Compensation Commission and capitulated to the Minister’s position. He was at the time caught up in the middle of a range of allegations and counter-allegations of fraud and corruption. The Minister of course, repaid his master loyally by ridiculing himself and his badge of office by declaring amongst other things that a swimming pool was in fact a fire-pool, a preposterous proposition that will haunt him forever.

But there is also a lesson here for all those who uncritically strive to protect their leader (and their own narrow interests) even in the face of the most incredible distortions of the truth:

When the leader has no more use of you, you will be discarded and abandoned to your fate, subject to popular ridicule arising from your blind subservience to those who care little for your integrity.

5) Next to be targeted was the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), another state structure that has lost all its credibility, led by a middle level prosecutor who replaced Advocate Mxolisi Nxasana following a R17, 3 million golden handshake. Adv. Shaun Abrahams wasted no time in dropping charges of fraud and perjury against Adv. Nomgcobo Jiba, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DDPP). So we now have a situation where the NPA is led by a virtual nobody before his appointment, who fully appreciates that he owes his spectacular elevation to one of the highest of state positions not to merit, or his skills or experience or diligence, but to political shenanigans and manipulation. And to people who in any normal circumstances would be facing fraud, money laundering and corruption allegations in court. Both of these most senior prosecutors are therefore compromised to the bone.

6) Next to be subjected to systematic attacks and insults were the Judges, including those serving in the Constitutional Court. Rogue elements produced intelligence reports labelling all those seen to be opponents to this takeover as agents of the CIA and American imperialism. To their eternal shame, in the name of their President, many senior ANC and Alliance leaders have subjected judges and the Office of the Public Protector to outrageous, and completely unwarranted, attacks. Some of the very same defenders of the President fail to see the irony in now calling for a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations of state capture, when the Public Protector is one of the few senior civil servants who retain public respect and sympathy for challenging corrupt practices.

It appears that the only reason why the SACP for example is crying foul now is that its own Ministers and ‘place people’ face possible axing because they clearly have not been loyal enough to the Zuma/Gupta project, or for not respecting the hyena family rules. Ordinary SACP members after years of ducking and diving to justify the actions of their leadership are now increasingly asking themselves: is this the road to socialism? Is this what Chris Hani died for? Is this the action of a party that calls itself communist? Many others have voted with their feet, and no longer participate in SACP meetings, and who can blame them? The SACP simply cannot attack those who are trying to contain and counter corruption while they distinguished themselves as the defenders of the most corrupt.

7) The State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have not escaped being the target of this domestication or state capture agenda or creation of a patronage network to look after family, friends and parasitic bourgeois elements in society. Today most are in a complete, but entirely manufactured, mess. Instead of serving as an example of how they can contribute to the development of a dynamic and efficient developmental state, they have been deliberately run down, failing the very people they are supposed to serve.

8) This is part of the hollowing out of state institutions to make way for privatisation, cheap sell-offs, the cherry picking of selective and profitable elements of the state infrastructure to provide private capital with a much needed crutch to escape the worst aspects of the global capitalist crisis.

9) Central to this has been the appointment and deployment of tame ‘cadres’ with zero or no capacity to either manage the entities in question, or perhaps more importantly, to drive a genuine process of transformation that will benefit our people. Many of these appointments must be investigated to see if the grubby hands of the Gupta family were involved.

We now know that what has become known as the ZAA, the ‘Zupta Appointment Authority’, a secretive labour broker for the ambitious and unprincipled, insisted on the willingness of its potential deployees to bend the rules, to favour certain investors, and to ensure that open and transparent management of SOEs was to be avoided at all costs. The SAA debacle is a case in point, and would have led to a disastrous state of affairs but for the insistence by (dismissed) Finance Minister Nene for accountability and logic in the wild purchasing policy of a Zuma-friendly chairperson, Dudu Myeni.

A diagram of how the President’s friends and family have benefitted from this process would resemble a huge bowl of spaghetti – they are everywhere, but if you seek to pull on one strand to uncover where it begins and ends, you will be disappointed. To ensure the success of employing tame, unquestioning managers there has been a systematic campaign to remove competent and dedicated professionals across all SOEs.

Eskom has been largely responsible for delivering severe body blows to the economy by an almost complete absence of planning or cognizance of the needs of our people. It has played a central role in affecting the downgrade to junk status. If commercial and domestic energy demands cannot be met to guarantee uninterrupted economic activity, what hope is there of securing public investment, job security, and a willingness to bargain with capital on clearly under-sold energy deals?

The SA Post Office is in total chaos, SAA is bankrupt and a public liability, PetroSA and others stagger from one crisis to another, worsened by constant allegations of corruption and nepotism.

10) The SA Revenue Service became the next target. Its managers, who were celebrated for increased effectiveness, ability to meet targets, and for dealing with taxpayers in a respectful manner, were shown the door. A failed and retired former DG of Correctional Services was brought back. Even since, then it has been undermined by allegations and counter allegations of political agendas to remove those in possession of facts that might expose the double-dealings of the powerful.

11) But to me the most serious crime committed by those driving the agenda, was to target the congress movement including the ANC itself for domestication. Mindless slate politics of pass-one-pass-all produced a type of leadership which is first and foremost junior, with no real history. Many of the tried and tested were sidelined and have been reduced into writing occasional letters decrying this degeneration of a heroic movement of the people – a beacon of hope for the interests of the ordinary masses. This was cemented in Mangaung, when the likes of Mavuso Msimang, one of the most celebrated MK commanders and a survivor of the Wankie campaign luminary could not go through the grinding factional machine in favour of the likes of Humphrey Mmemezi, the big spender of public money.

The leaders of the ANC, SACP and SACTU played such a critical role in the formation of COSATU, yet today the ANC and SACP leaders are accused by many of having played such a divisive role in the destruction of the union federation. The SACP has abandoned the post as a vanguard of the working class struggle for socialism. The ANCYL, ANCWL, MKVA, SASCO, COSAS etc. are all shadows of their former selves. This is not accidental but forms part of the strategy to ensure no organisation can hold the leadership accountable or stop the slide towards a predatory state.

Arising from this juniorisation and emasculation of the ANC-led organs of people’s power, the leaders who know that under normal circumstances they would not be holding such senior positions in the ANC NEC, SACP, COSATU, etc. know they must serve the faction, the leader and their own selfish interests instead of those of the people. The Cabinet, largely drawn from this NEC, has been juniorised itself.

This is how it has been possible to effect this process of capturing the state. Many members of the ANC have been asking – where was our ANC when all this was happening? How is it possible that a movement celebrated the world over could succumb so quickly to the sins of incumbency? What happened to the brave men and women who faced the worst of the most brutal apartheid state machinery? How could these heroes and heroines risk credibility earned during South Africa’s darkest hour just to retain an ability to pay the next instalment of their Range Rover? How is it possible that the whole ANC in parliament can collectively back the President, when he is clearly breaking his oath of office and therefore the Constitution? How could anybody have the gall to blame civil servants when R250 million has been spent in what is clearly a blatant overpricing of goods as part of scheme long exposed by successive Auditor Generals to milk taxpayers?

When the Guptas landed their plane in one of the key centres of South Africa’s defence system and then used traffic officials to escort their friends and relatives to a family wedding, several Ministers came forward and defended the Guptas. Public Servants were eventually blamed, yet the person who took the fall, Bruce Koloane, was subsequently promoted to be the Ambassador to the Netherlands. The message is that the best way to enhance your career prospects is to be willing to take the fall for the misrule of your country by those with vested interests.

The rot has gone too deep and too widespread to be put on the shoulders of one person in the form of Jacob Zuma.

Whilst this all is happening, the quadruple crisis of unemployment, poverty, inequalities and corruption deepens unabated. I have over and over analysed what this catastrophe means to the living conditions of the working class – black working class in particular. But there is less and less talk about the challenges facing the working class today than any time in history. The political shenanigans have sidelined the interests of the majority and prioritised focus on palace politics; there’s hardly any talk of what must be done to address the deepening economic crisis.

In the midst of this chaos, bigger hyenas in business took advantage to amass wealth including through committing the most heinous forms of crimes against South Africa economy. In 2013 alone $29 billion was illegally taken out of South Africa in illicit financial flows.

It has become difficult to do business with government without greasing the hands of corrupt officials. Hyenas continue to loot resources intended to provide services to the poor to line their own pockets.

The interests of capital, and all those placed in the state by the ZAA labour broker, and those who have abandoned any transformative agenda in the Alliance share the same interests – to preserve the status quo of ruling class oppression.

Beyond Lamenting – what is to be Done?

We cannot allow ourselves to be bludgeoned into silence when faced with such ruthless attacks on the society we are trying to build. What our people need more than ever is to feel that their interests, not those of a rich and corrupting family, are being properly represented. We deserve leaders who take their mandate from the people themselves, and not just once every five years during an election campaign.

We must reject the SACP’s opportunism and factional manoeuvres and of several prominent ANC leaders who have now suddenly woken up to the capture of the state and the economy. They were silent until their own mini-empires were threatened, and their own usefulness to President Jacob Zuma declined! They did not hesitate to lend credibility to this project, which not only involved the worst excesses of neo-liberal pillaging of state resources, but the hollowing out of organs of people’s power and which sought to domesticate institutions defending our democracy. The SACP are now saying too little, too late and too timidly to earn people’s respect, especially those in the workers’ movement who have patiently waited for the SACP leadership to extricate itself from this mess and provide an alternative. Their complete failure to do so will cost them dearly.

Precisely because of this demobilising agenda, workers and the youth have no voice today; our economy is reproducing unemployment, poverty and inequalities. Our people are sitting ducks to crime and the failure of the justice system to deliver. Because of the internecine shenanigans and cronyism, our intelligence capacity to go after known crime syndicates and illegal cartels has been weakened and the SABC transformed into a mouthpiece of vested interests, embedded in the State.

In the light of this crisis I make the following immediate calls:

  1. Government must immediately remove the sanctions imposed on the Office of the Public Protector so that it can investigate all cases referred to it by the public. In particular the government must release adequate resources to allow the Public Protector to investigate all the tenders the Gupta family has acquired with the state including state owned enterprises.
  2. The mandate of the current Public Protector, who has distinguished herself as a fearless defender of the interests of the weakest against the most powerful, comes to an end in October 2016. I back the call of Corruption Watch, the Unite Against Corruption campaign and many other organisations for citizens to nominate their own public protector who will protect the rights of citizens instead of the vested interests of the powerful.
  3. Government Ministers, officials from the Director General to traffic police officers, and all officials of SOEs who have experienced any interference by the Gupta family directly or indirectly, must come forward, give information to the Public Protector and report any other pressures they have been under those representing vested interests.
  4. Civil society and all political parties opposed to state capture must unite and mobilise our people to resist at least two kinds of capture. The first is by white monopoly capital, which has used its influence to lobby for neo-liberal pro-rich and anti-poor policies, worsening the four-pronged crisis facing the working class of poverty, unemployment, inequality and corruption. The second is the capture of the state by the parasitic and comprador capitalists like the Guptas (and they are not the only ones) who are using their proximity to the President and his willingness to allow his family to accumulate wealth. We are now approaching all concerned parties to discuss the next practical steps that must be undertaken to involve the masses of the people in this new struggle to reclaim our freedom from those undermining it.
  5. In the past I have called on President Zuma, his Cabinet and the ANC NEC to resign, for which we all now feel completely vindicated. We are experiencing an unprecedented lack of leadership in our country. The ANC has now lost all of its remaining moral authority and cannot make the claim that it is a leader of society after allowing this country to arrive where is it – with worsening levels of unemployment, poverty, inequalities, crime and corruption. The very telling statement by the pro-Zuma ANCWL President confirms what we all suspected – that everyone in the NEC has their own “smaller nyana skeletons which if they were to be taken out all hell will break loose”. The ANC NEC has no moral authority or political will to recall the President for they too have been compromised together with almost all ANC structures by religiously supporting the actions of a President and his ‘friends’ for far too long. We now know that President Zuma will not resign unless there is a groundswell of opposition down on the ground.
  6. The people of this country have a responsibility to stand up and protect their future. If President Zuma and his backers refuse to leave on their own, they must be forced to by pressure from below. However, we cannot simply keep repeating the tired old slogans of the past, and organise in a way that is no longer appropriate or effective. We need a fresh beginning that starts with the democratic voice of the people.
  7. Business must accept that they too have a responsibility to stop the slide towards a kleptocractic capitalist order. More importantly they must demonstrate willingness to cleanse themselves of those elements taking advantage of the current situation by isolating them, including applying sanctions against the likes of the Guptas, and by refusing to do business with people who are not genuine entrepreneurs but who are tenderpreneurs.

We must review and renew ways to arrive at a democratic mandate and draw on the experience of other movements and other countries to explore how best to avoid the pitfalls of unaccountability, corruption and rule by, and for, narrow vested interests.

We need to map out a plan for re-industrialisation and beneficiation that allows us to utilise the vast human, material and natural resources at our disposal. South Africa is not a poor country – it is a rich country containing mostly poor people! We cannot allow ourselves to descend to the same levels of Zimbabwe’s economy, where only five per cent of the working population are in the formal sector.

We must acknowledge that there will be no quick fixes, and that we will face unprecedented opposition from those who enjoy the fruits of exploitation both nationally and internationally.

We need new rules to fight a new game, including moving away from the current proportional representation system that has served to entrench patronage, discourage dissent and outlaw truth telling. We need a mixture of a constituency and proportional representation that allows for minorities to be properly represented.

We need to move beyond forms of popular participation that fail to provide real opportunities for our people to decide their destiny. The empty Ward Committees, the invisible councillors, compromised and unaccountable Members of Parliament assigned to constituencies, and the selection of President by the winning party, and not the people as a whole, must come to an end.

Opening up the Doors of Discussion

I do not claim to have all of the answers to the challenges we face, but I believe the democratic road is so fundamentally important, that to allow those currently least able to exercise their power to do so, and for society as a whole to draw upon their considerable knowledge and wisdom. There are however a number of points that must be thoroughly discussed as part of a process of renewal and refocusing, and I invite South Africans to discuss these issues:

  1. Only the sustained inclusive mobilisation of our people will generate a counter power to that wielded by the political and economic elite; those fortunate to be in work must be regarded as an essential part of that mobilisation.
  2. We have to show through our daily practice that we believe in the power of democracy, well beyond the limitations imposed by the current parliamentary system. There must be decision-making in communities, workplaces, schools and universities by all those situated in them. We have to be held accountable for the decisions we make.
  3. We must resist all attempts to divide and rule us, and not pander to the racists, homophobes, xenophobes or sexists. Finding common ground between us will be an essential part of building a respectful, hopeful, inclusive and profoundly democratic process, and will help us to achieve not just unity on paper, but unity in action.

Finally, we have to be ready to learn from our mistakes, and be open about doing so. This humble paper has been driven in part by that concern. Please engage. DM

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