Suddenly, with the publication of the first volume of the Zondo Report, everyone wants to be a reformer. Ramaphosa has suddenly nailed his standard to the reform mast, SAA is vowing to deal with its “shameful” past, and Business Leadership SA is offering to help with the reform agenda. Most tellingly of all, the old Artful Dodger himself – Thabo Mbeki – has come out for reform by singling out Tom Moyane, the man who helped ruin the Revenue Service (SARS), labelling him as “a counter-revolutionary who should face harsh consequences”.
“One of the unfortunate things, when you look at the Zondo Commission”, Mbeki told the ANC NEC, “is that it does not understand that this thing that we call state capture is in many incidents a manifestation of counter-revolution”. That is, revolutionary theory is higher than mere law and to deem state capture counter-revolutionary means that it was more sinful than mere criminality. And, of course, Mbeki, as a prime source of revolutionary theory is thus wiser than poor benighted Zondo. We are back in the world of Mbeki sophistry.
The use of the terms “revolutionary” and “counter-revolutionary” belongs to the exiled ANC of the 1970s and 1980s when virtually the whole leadership had adopted this SACP terminology in order to demonstrate how radical they were. But even then it was play-acting.
In fact, as we all know, there was no revolution. There was a negotiated settlement after lengthy talks. The Nats handed the ANC power on a plate and then shared it with them for three years. Ultimately the Nats were simply absorbed into the ANC. None of this is a state secret and nobody knows that better than Thabo Mbeki who never played any role in the armed struggle and was having talks with Nat emissaries long before the rest of the ANC was even told about it.
So for Mbeki to be conjuring up the “counter-revolution” is a dead give-away: He is trying to dress himself up in radical clothes because he and Essop Pahad have been a great deal less than frank about the way in which the Guptas were brought into the ANC’s inner circles. So, as people start to pick the whole Gupta period apart, some insurance is necessary.
For a brief and glorious moment, however, it is open season in the hunt for the many crooks that surrounded, aided and abetted Zuma. This is not a good time to be Brian Molefe or Malusi Gigaba, though as many have noted Gigaba and many others like him still occupy powerful positions within the ANC.
The first real test of reform will be whether they lose those positions. If they don’t then the drive for reform is not serious and may be written off as just one more of Ramaphosa’s meaningless rhetorical flourishes. The fact that Gwede Mantashe wants the Zondo Report to be dealt with “internally” as an ANC matter and warns against “individuals being targeted” suggests that a smothering operation is already under way.
We are certainly having a feast of Ramaphosa-isms. Probably the most choice of these was the commitment in the ANC’s January 8 statement to create a new social compact to banish unemployment and poverty. We have had so many similar promises before, all of them empty. Does anyone even believe that the way to deal with unemployment and poverty is a social compact? Surely not. The fact that the ANC is still making such promises is simply a sign that they haven’t understood the problem and, indeed, don’t really care much about it.
Meanwhile, it will have been noted that the National Prosecuting Authority has quickly said that it lacks the resources to mount a case against Dudu Myeni, one of the biggest villains revealed in Zondo Vol.I. This is very odd indeed. The Zondo Report itself contains a great deal of evidence against Myeni and whole series of interested parties, such as the SAA pilots’ association, have a great deal more. It is all fresh and readily available and countless witnesses exist who can be called to testify.
Myeni’s misdemeanours were in any case so gross that she has already been disqualified for life from holding further directorial responsibility. If the NPA really can’t prosecute Myeni, is it of any use at all? Or is it simply scared of tackling someone so close to Zuma?
But then, straight after warning that it doesn’t plan to go after Myeni, the NPA tells us – with a straight face – that it has already spent four months investigating whether to re-open the cases of Albert Luthuli (d.1967) and Abdullah Haron (d.1969). This is utterly fantastic. Both cases are more than fifty years old, all the witnesses will be long dead and the possibility of new evidence is zero. Haron is alleged to have fallen down stairs while under Security Police custody. There is no earthly way now of proving that the Security Police murdered him although we can all suspect that that was quite possible.
The Luthuli case is even more bizarre. By 1967 the government had completely crushed the armed struggle. MK’s activists had either fled abroad, were in jail or had turned their coats to work for the Security Police. Luthuli was unwell and living in isolation in Groutville. He had, as the government knew full well, opposed the turn to armed struggle and never had anything to do with MK. Not only was he no threat to the regime but, with the crushing of MK, he was an alternative, peaceable focus for ANC support. He was world famous, had won the Nobel Peace Prize and been visited by Robert Kennedy the previous year.
In other words the Nat government had absolutely no reason to feel threatened by Luthuli but they had much to lose if Luthuli met a violent end, for this would excite more international criticism and suspicion. From their point of view Luthuli getting knocked over by a train was something of a disaster.
To blame the Nat government for the death of Luthuli may be emotionally satisfying but it makes no sense. The only possible reason for dredging up the Luthuli and Haron cases now is to bang the apartheid drum yet once more and to distract attention from the NPA’s failure to deal with the crimes in front of its nose.
However, Ramaphosa is keenly aware that the public wants to see the villains behind state capture punished and more generally, as the local elections showed, it is disgusted by the ANC’s tolerance of criminal elements in its ranks. Moreover, Ramaphosa has promised a “new dawn” and “reform” and thus far has absolutely nothing to show for it. With the Zondo Report rolling off the presses there is a strong “born again” feeling that South Africa’s democracy needs to be rescued and a firm resolve shown as we make a fresh new start.
But there is another problem. Ask yourself, who has done the most damage to South Africa? Popular choices might be Verwoerd or Zuma. Actually, the answer by many miles is Thabo Mbeki. He it was who began to get rid of the skilled and experienced folk from the civil service, replacing them with ANC cadres and claiming that the notion of a skills shortage was “an urban legend”. Ever since then the administration of the country has been broken and governments can do very little.
Similarly, it was on Mbeki’s watch that Eskom’s warning in 1998 that without the construction of more power stations, there would be power cuts within ten years. The warning was ignored and Mbeki actually forbade the building of new power stations. The result has been to cripple South Africa’s development for the last fifteen years.
And, of course, Mbeki’s Aids denialism led him to prevent and then delay Aids sufferers from accessing ARVs. According to Pride Chigwedere of Harvard’s School of Public Health, this cost 330,000 lives, with another 35,000 babies born HIV positive. Many of those would have died very young. Some of Chigwedere’s colleagues thought his figures were on the conservative side but let’s just leave the figure at 365,000. Nobody else in South African history is responsible for such mass death.
It’s worth noting that under Mbeki South African life expectancy fell, year after year, whereas under Zuma it soared – for Zuma made ARVs easily accessible to everyone at the world’s cheapest prices. Zuma had no intellectual pretensions. He knew that distributing ARVs would be popular and that was enough. But Mbeki was both paranoid and arrogant so he was certain he knew better – no matter what the human cost. Moreover, he is unrepentant: not long ago he insisted again that he had been right about Aids.
Very few people in any culture have been responsible for the deaths of 365,000 of their own people, It would be over the top to compare Mbeki with Hitler, Stalin or Mao, all of whom killed many millions, but he’s quite comparable with, say, Idi Amin. The International Commission of Jurists estimated Amin’s victims as around 300,000. Of course, causing death on such an industrial scale requires enablers and Mbeki had his enablers too, starting with the Health ministers, Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, who paid little heed to Aids, and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who, like Mbeki, referred to ARVs as “poison”.
Pali Lehohla, the Statistician-General, was enlisted to attack the Medical Research Council for having dared to say that Aids was the largest cause of death in South Africa. Barney Pityana, then head of the Human Rights Commission, withdrew his support for the Treatment Action Campaign Nevirapine court case after coming under government pressure. He then resigned from the HRC and was made vice-chancellor of Unisa. It is not difficult to join up the dots.
The Constitutional Court upheld a high court ruling against Mbeki’s Aids policies but released the government from the need to report back to the court, which enabled the government to continue avoiding full implementation of the court ruling.
And so it went on, with a wide variety of ministers and officials quietly collaborating to ensure that Mbeki’s Aids denialism remained in place. The only Cabinet minister to argue strongly against this position was Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
One could go on and on – there was no shortage of enablers – but Mbeki was the spider at the centre of the web. If South Africa really wants to reform and make a fresh start it has to deal with Mbeki. If he is left to play an elder statesman role it makes little sense to mete out sanctions to anyone else. But there are problems.
Was what Mbeki did a crime in the legal sense? Given that he was backed up by cabinet and parliamentary majorities it is not clear that what he did was illegal. No doubt if he could be arraigned before the International Criminal Court at the Hague he may well be found guilty of crimes against humanity – and the Court there is used enough with having to deal with monsters like Charles Taylor who had similar levels of support from their henchmen. But the ICC intervenes in cases like Taylor’s because there was no prospect of his being brought to justice in his own country. South Africa could and should deal with its own miscreants.
It may be that sanctioning Mbeki would have to be done informally. This is already the case internationally: in effect Mbeki is treated as a leper and no reputable international body of any kind has offered him a position since he stepped down as President. Compare that with Festus Mogae, the former President of Botswana, who has been showered with international awards and positions of every kind.
At the very least the ANC could remove him from its NEC and UCT could take back the special leadership award which it cravenly bestowed upon Mbeki. That would at least show that South Africa had fallen in step with the rest of world opinion. It would also send a “never again” message to all and sundry.
Doubtless, President Ramaphosa would not feel comfortable at making such a move (though for once the RET faction would happily support him) but for precisely that reason to take such a step would show that he was serious about reform and facing up to what has gone wrong.
What should certainly not count is any argument that it is better to “let sleeping dogs lie”. Just remember that 365,000 people died horrible and unnecessary deaths as a result of Mbeki’s deliberate refusal to let them have ARVs. What can possibly be more important than that? Against that terrible fact no argument from comfort or convenience can count for anything at all.