Business needs to come to the table in a more serious and profound way
15 FEBRUARY 2018 – 09:59
It is with an overwhelming sense of joy and relief that SA can say goodbye to Jacob Zuma.
His rule, at the helm of our country, in the highest office in the land — which all citizens should respect — has been a mockery of democracy and our Constitution. There is no other way to greet his departure than to say: “Good riddance.”
What happens now?
Zuma must face the consequences of his actions. That is already beginning to unfold as the Hawks start proceedings in court this morning against several people close to him. We know that there is no plea bargain or guarantee of any sort to enable him to avoid prosecution that could have been offered to get him at this stage to step down. This is not legally possible.
Should this be on offer in the future — in return, for instance, for admission of guilt on a lesser charge and to give evidence against the Guptas — it would be entirely inappropriate. It was Zuma who invited the Guptas in and facilitated their looting spree, from which, it will no doubt be possible to prove, he benefited abundantly.
It is Zuma and his corrupt coterie of ministers — and not an opportunistic and criminal immigrant family — who have committed the more fundamental betrayal of SA’s people.
The ANC has assured us that Zuma has not asked the taxpayer to pay his legal fees. It is imperative that the Office of the President — which would be the only place from where such an agreement could emanate — is transparent about this matter. The precedent in the past has been that government has agreed to pay the legal fees of those who are accused of things done in the course of their duties, on condition that should they be found guilty the money is paid back in full. There must be no blank cheque for his defence.
We can expect that in the coming months we will hear much more about what Zuma has already cost us financially, should his corruption trial, the commission into state capture and other possible prosecutions get under way as anticipated.
More serious even than the looting of state funds, though, is the cost of Zuma’s abuse and misuse of political power to the economy, to business, to the unemployed and to the developmental project.
Zuma has set us back by almost decade: he has opened the floodgates to looting, undermined our institutions, allowed a political culture mired in corruption to take root and spread like a cancer, and undermined the capacity of the state through patronage and the purging of competent and honest officials.
The next thing is to think about the reconstruction. SA needs an honest conversation.
Corruption in SA was not invented by Jacob Zuma. It preceded the ANC government; it preceded even the National Party government; it has been a prominent feature since the days of colonial rule. Zuma’s exit will not end corruption.
Reversing the culture of corruption will take a society-wide effort. Apart from the obvious — investigations, convictions, a clean-out of the criminal justice system — SA must develop zero tolerance for corruption. The public must not enable petty bribery of traffic police and the like; companies and trade unions must clamp down on jobs for pals or the practice of selling jobs; schools and universities must find and root out those who offer marks for sex.
While corruption is a serious problem, the overriding problem by far is the crisis of unemployment, inequality and poverty. It’s no longer tenable to continue in the same way since 1994. That social pact has run its course. It is time now to find a different, and more inclusive, way of doing things.
Ramaphosa, who on his election as ANC president embraced his organisation’s decision to introduce land expropriation without compensation, is aware of this. The terms have changed and time has run out to continue asking the poor to be patient on the promise of a better future. The hope that existed in 1994 — that tomorrow will be better than today — has unsurprisingly given way to disillusionment and despair.
For business, SA is a country of great potential and many opportunities. While we lost our way during the Zuma years, the opportunities for growth and investment are returning. This time though, business needs to come to the table in a more serious and profound way.
What we have learned over the past decade is that our fates are inextricably bound. Business must seek to make SA a more prosperous and a more inclusive society. Fortunately, there are already some initiatives brewing: the CEO Initiative to create a million job opportunities is visionary and potentially transformative. It needs and deserves the support of everyone.
In this environment we can be glad that it is Ramaphosa who will be at the helm this time. We look to him to lead us in finding solutions. We wish him the wisdom and good fortune to lead and offer our wholehearted support.