Using state institutions to fight factional battles is detrimental to their survival

As the ANC heads towards its national conference, it is not just state institutions such as the intelligence community that are falling victim to factional battles. Parliament, state-owned enterprises, and even the academia are all being used to wage these factional wars. What will be left of these institutions at the end of the year? WELSEY SEALE asks.

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. The words of the American philosopher George Santayana ring loudly as the African National Congress once again heads towards its national conference. As before, it is using state institutions to fight factional battles to ensure victory for a certain slate.

In the run-up to the Polokwane conference, South Africans know now that a number of state institutions were used, wittingly or unwittingly by political leaders, in order to fight factional wars within the ANC. The security cluster, in particular, fell victim to this abuse.

The intelligence community, the police, the now defunct Scorpions, the prosecuting authority, among others were used in order to pursue a particular outcome at Polokwane. The on the record and off the record views of the then National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka is there for all to see. In turn, entities such as the SABC were co-opted, together with other media outlets, to engage in the smear campaign against President Jacob Zuma.

The revelation of the contents of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s private emails have some is the ANC once again pointing out that state institutions are being abused for factional reasons. ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, speaking at a press conference, condemned the alleged use of state institutions being used in the Ramaphosa matter (yet to be proven – we are still awaiting a formal complaint to the Inspector General of Intelligence by Ramaphosa) and warning that the continued misuse of state institutions could ultimately lead to the demise of the ANC. Importantly, Mantashe ascribed this abuse to ‘apartheid tricks’. Indeed, the practice is not new but it seems that the ANC is simply not learning from history.

Yet it seems that abuse of state machinery is only identified when the security cluster is involved. Of late, other institutions have become the battleground for ANC factions. One such institution is parliament. Correctly so, the opposition has pounced on the opportunity to gang up with a number of ANC MPs, since the eighth vote of no confidence, in order to ‘hold the executive accountable’. But holding the executive to account is far from what ANC MPs are really doing. Instead what is happening is cheap politicking and using any opportunity to score points against the opposing faction.

One example is the current interrogation by the Public Enterprises committee in the hope of proving allegations of state capture. Note, not to understand and bury state capture once and for all, rather to prove state capture. We all know that state capture exists because it existed before 1994 already and it continued to exist after 1994. Sadly, what we are witnessing is a football match with public enterprises being used as the football in ANC factional battles. Those in the ANC pursuing the witchhunt do so not to preserve our state-owned enterprises as an asset of the South African people. Rather they engage in this fight to gain popularity ahead of the national conference in December and possibly because they have lost business from state-owned enterprises which they enjoyed before.

A group of academics recently wrote a paper titled: Betrayal of the Promise: How the Nation is Being Stolen. The paper received much factional and media coverage. In a public debate, not too long ago, Professor Mark Swilling, the lead author, admitted that the group took shy of eight weeks to compile the report. The South African Communist Party saw it fit to have a presentation done at its Conference on this report. The academics were clearly determined to get something out before the SACP’s Congress and the ANC’s national conference despite the enormous damage such a poor academic piece of work could do to our SOEs and the South African state.

A response was written to this paper called “In defence of the Academic: State Capture and the Failure to Deconstruct the Apartheid Shadow State”. Among others, the response critiqued Betrayal of the Promise as being devoid of both a conceptual and methodological level. The critique suggested that it was a shoddy piece of academic work. For example, the shadow state did not emerge under the Zuma administration; state capturing and kitchen cabinets were a phenomenon during the Apartheid days already. Therefore, the shadow state as a concept, developed by these academics, is flawed because it is an ahistorical study. If one wishes to understand institutions, the informal institutions of the shadow state and state capture, then one needs an historical analysis. Betrayal of the Promise furthermore relies primarily on newspaper clippings. It is impossible to do qualitative research of quality, with this scope, within eight weeks.

The portfolio committee on public enterprises heard a presentation by these academics of Betrayal of the Promise but refused to hear the author of In defence of the Academic. It did not serve their factional interests to hear an opposing view; after all an ‘academic’ smoking gun is what they wanted. They were not interested in allowing for a thorough investigation or full comprehension of the phenomenon of state capture. Rather what both sides of the portfolio committee are interested in is a cheap shot at headlines, caring very little about the future of state-owned enterprises in South Africa.

What Betrayal of the Promise does is simply provide factional bullets for the ANC. It offers very little research into models, even based on international case studies, on how we are going to defeat state capture in South Africa, no matter who is governing.

We have an idea of the future of SOEs under a Democratic Alliance led national government. Well, at least Helen Zille’s DA, maybe not Mmusi Maimane’s. We are not sure what substance the Economic Freedom Fighters have to offer to the debate but one could guess that they would want to keep SOEs within the state hands. However, what will the state of these SOEs be when political parties have stopped playing political football with them?

What South Africans need is a multiparty approach to working with, not against, the department to resolve issues of state capture. Confidence in SOEs does not come from executives and the boards of these SOEs; rather confidence in the SOEs comes directly from the people’s representatives. If the people’s representatives keep throwing mud at state assets, the mud will stick and what state will they inherit?

All political parties shoot themselves in the foot when they think they can use SOEs as a political battlefield. In fact, what this shows is how short-sighted they are. If they are in opposition they may believe that they will never govern and therefore SOEs will never be their responsibility. If they are in the ANC, then they have no idea that the shambolic state of SOEs will still be waiting for them in January 2018 and then who will they blame?

It is not only the security cluster that is being used by the ANC to wage its factional wars. Parliament, SOEs, and even the academia all seem to be falling victim this time around. With the crop of public representatives that we currently have at the moment, we remain doomed it seems.

Seale teachers Politics at Rhodes University in South Africa

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