State capture and the centre that seems no longer able to hold​

For the last seven years, the governing party seems to have gained control of the state machine, most importantly the presidency. The old slogan that ‘the party will decide’ seems no longer a rhetoric, the party is making decisions on national issues, rightly so. Countless crises have seen the governing party express their position, take responsibility or in several occasions, spin stories to avoid embarrassment.

On May 29 2011, the secretary general of the ANC, commenting on the then competition on who would head the International Monetary Fund, stated the following: “We strongly believe that the time for the developing world to bring a candidate to serve as head of the IMF is more opportune now”, before proceeding to state that it was not for the country to propose Trevor Manuel for candidacy. Last month (September 2016), it was the ANC secretary general who made public efforts to try and dissolve the tensions between the Hawks and the minister of finance.

Of interest is that markets reacted negatively to his statements, which were perceived as criticism of the finance minister – so the Rand rattled. And chastising minister Zwane for his controversial comments on calling for investigation of banks which had closed down the Gupta’s accounts, Mantashe said it was “reckless to discredit one sector where South Africa is doing well”.

On the performance of parastatals, including the SABC, earlier in October 2016 Gwede Mantashe reported that “The NEC extensively discussed the challenges at a number of state-owned companies. On the SABC, the NEC called for the board of the corporation to review the decision to appoint Hlaudi Motsoeneng as group executive for corporate affairs. The NEC also agreed on the need for a parliamentary inquiry into the board’s fitness to hold office.” So the question is not what the ANC is doing to redeem the country.

What is at stake, is the relegation of executive decisions by the state to the governing party.

Issues relating to IMF, the Hawks versus the minister of finance, investigations of the banking sector, or even performance of parastatals are the preserve of the state – not the governing party.

Of course the National Executive Committee is responsible to ensure that the party’s agenda is well represented within the state. But the state is not the governing party and the governing party is not the state. The state is a constitutional organ, which is supposed to be bipartisan, executing constitutional mandate for all South Africans regardless of which party they belong to. The state president is the chief executive of the state, charged by the constitution to manage the affairs of the country.

Yet in almost all the above noted issues, South Africans are sure where the governing party stands, but unsure what the position of the state is. Over the course of president Zuma’s presidency, we’ve seen the lines between the governing party and the state become increasingly blurred, so much so that we have come to accept the party’s position as representing the position of state. So we look to Gwede Mantashe’s Luthuli House to answers of the functioning (or malfunctioning) of the state, rather than looking to Zuma’s Union buildings.

The problem with blurred lines is that state institutions and individuals almost inevitably transfer their loyalty to the governing party rather than to their chief executive, who should represent the interests of all South Africans. In this way, the commitment of state officials to the common good becomes compromised. No wonder the state seems to be a divided house – because the centre seems no longer able to hold the country together. This duty has been left to the governing party.

The risk of the current state of affairs is that it is likely to divide the country along several lines, from racial, to tribal, to class. Because the centre seems to have fallen out. I warn that the task of re-dividing the party and state lines and subsequently, state building is an urgent one. In functional democracies such as South Africa, when parties decline or collapse, they are likely to renew themselves, or hand over political power to opposition parties. But if the state machinery collapses, the country descends into chaos and disorder of all sorts. Emerging disorders in South Africa are a slippery path towards a larger, more devastating socio-economic tragedy. And yet there is room and time for redemption of the centre, still.

Dr Jason Musyoka is a Post-Doctoral fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Human Economy programme. He writes in his own capacity. Email: [email protected]

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Jason Musyoka
Jason Musyoka
Associate Researcher at University of Pretoria. Guest lecturer at UKZN. Former Post-Doctoral Fellow at University of Pretoria. Former Research at Synovate.

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