By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Out of his hands
In a nutshell, while Ramaphosa’s position as ANC president may not be secure, he has deftly ensured that his anti-corruption effort would be able to take on a life of its own with or without him on the saddle.
“South Africa is a constitutional democracy in which the head of government does not decide who gets prosecuted for corruption or any other crime. Not even Jacob Zuma could decide that, much to his regret”, says Steven Friedman, a research professor and renowned political scientist at the University of Johannesburg.
“Ramaphosa did not even appoint the head of the prosecution service alone – he was careful to ensure that she was chosen by a committee consisting mainly of professional lawyers so that he could not be accused of influencing the process”, adds Friedman.
“Who is prosecuted will, therefore, be determined by the National Director of Public Prosecutions [Advocate Shamila Batohi], an independent person recently appointed with the support of the entire legal profession”, the UJ professor avers further.
Already, the South African president has announced a new special investigative unit to prosecute the state capture allegations: “We have agreed with the new National Director of Public Prosecutions, that there is an urgent need to establish in the office of the NDPP an investigating directorate dealing with serious corruption and associated offences, in accordance with section 7 of the NPA Act.”
So, he is certainly heading in the right direction. The key question is whether he would be able to stay the course as the casaulties of his anti-corruption war start to get closer to home.
Oxford Analytica’s Robinson has cogent views on the question. “While his administration has faced public criticism for not hastening anti-corruption investigations, especially the slow pace of prosecutions or some notable withdrawn cases (e.g., Estina Dairy Farm, Ajay Gupta arrest warrant), the fact is that if Ramaphosa tries to interfere in ongoing investigations he risks going down the path of politicising South Africa’s anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies as his predecessor did – which is what allowed the process of state capture to emerge in the first place.”
IHS Markit’s Malimela also has some views on this. “Given the evidence that has come out of the state capture Inquiry, it is hard to see Ramaphosa trying to protect anyone.”
“Remember that South African courts are very independent, and while Ramaphosa has a slim majority in the ANC, the ANC has been losing power overall in any case, and thus in a parliament where they enjoy an ever slimmer majority, it is very difficult from here on, to protect anyone against whom the NDPP finds solid evidence (which won’t be hard).”
“The new NDPP is very highly qualified, competent and respected, and has left the ICC [International Criminal Court] where she worked for 9 years to return to the NPA where she began her career. Much is expected of her.”
“My point is that, it may not be all up to him, and how far he will go. And that was his intention. He has played it very well in the sense that he is giving law enforcement institutions the space and resources to do their work: and they are starting to. But it will be a marathon, not a sprint.”
An edited version was published in the March 2019 issue of New African magazine