Editorial: The sad fact is the state is ripe for picking

In his book Lost in Transformation: South Africa’s Search for a New Future since 1986, Professor Sampie Terreblanche censured the ANC for bartering its once revolutionary ideals for the pragmatism and acceptance of big business.

“While the ANC operated on the moral high ground during the anti-apartheid struggle, since 1994 they have slipped into a sleazy underworld where corruption, nepotism and money squandering are the order of the day, so that South Africa could become a neocolonial satellite of the American-led neoliberal empire. Although the ANC has been the government of South Africa since 1994, we could allege that it is still not ‘ready to govern’,” he wrote.

Next week will mark one year since Terreblanche’s death. It has been several more years since his words quoted above were published. And it will be some time yet that his work will not be a relevant treatise on the state of South Africa.

One year post-Jacob Zuma and the light of the new dawn is still there but the air is heavily polluted. The smog of the ANC’s brand of governance over the past 25 years has left people coughing in the foul air of its failures. The prerogatives of government — to serve the people of South Africa — are routinely supplanted by the needs of business people with some affiliation to the state and thus influence over it.

It is a vicious cycle. Every time it coughs up a new scandal, we are left aghast. But this is exactly the function of the cycle.

The various iterations of the Gupta businesses, the Bosasa creep and the hijacking of the Public Investment Corporation by a man who styled himself Madiba’s doctor, intent on transforming media — in his own image — are symptoms of the problem, but not the problem itself.

The challenge continues to be the kind of state we won. This, after all, is the state that was meant to be when the elites of the ANC and business reached a compromise in the early 1990s. Any iteration of the state since then, whoever has been at the helm, has implicitly excluded the possibility of a comprehensive redistribution policy and thus a comprehensive solution to addressing crippling levels of race-based inequality.

The politicians of all three major parties will acknowledge the problem and insist they have the solution. But the truth is, even the best intentions are prone to capture. We are caught up in a warring over space at the feeding troughs by various elites, whose real aim is to secure the continuity of their licence to eat.

And much as President Cyril Ramaphosa decries state capture, he too has been party to another form of it. His own statement to the Farlam commission investigating the Marikana killings and his now infamous “concomitant action” in email correspondence revealed how he, as a businessperson, had inordinate access to and influence over the government.

Ramaphosa used that access to persuade the government and its agencies to act as Lonmin saw fit, which extended even to the language ministers used to describe the volatile situation in Marikana. Ramaphosa has expressed his regrets and continues to insist that his engagement of government ministers stemmed from a desire to prevent the further loss of life in Marikana. But his very involvement points to the problem from which we are never likely to be extricated — the state is there for the capture.

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