Pieter du Toit | Big capital must issue an ultimatum to Ramaphosa about Cele, Masemola, rule of law

31 August 2023

Pieter du Toit

Rescuing the criminal justice system is central to any attempt at resurrecting South Africa from the ANC’s misrule. And it’s time for big business to force the issue, writes Pieter du Toit.

Last week, during a dialogue session arranged by former transition politician Roelf Meyer and academic Nick Binedell, a respected and cerebral ANC cadre told an audience of about 100 people or so that it is corruption “by people in the ruling party and government” that has “killed” this country. 

Himself a former senior government official, the ANC cadre explained why he thought “the revolution died in 1994” and how ANC jingoism has destroyed the civil service, and how internal party politics have hollowed out and crippled the state.

The session, attended by an array of leaders from civil society, big business, academia, as well as a smattering of new and old politicians, was the fourth in a series of events arranged by Meyer and Binedell, which seeks to ignite social and political change by bringing together a variety of role players in society.

These sessions are part of a veritable constellation of similar initiatives arranged by a range of individuals and interest groups that seek to both identify the biggest problems facing South Africa today, and to identify solutions. 

Things aren’t as dire as they seem

I’ve now been to a couple of these off-the-record and Chatham House rules events, where some deeply committed and very resourceful South Africans debate, argue and plan. In addition to these initiatives – there is some overlap between participants and organisers, with at least four or five such distinct working groups active – there are formal workstreams where big business is partnering with the government.

These workstreams are divided into three main themes: crime and corruption, infrastructure, and energy and electricity. And they’re led by people of some consequence: Sibanye-Stillwater’s Neal Froneman and Remgro chief executive Jannie Durand lead the crime and corruption working group, for example. 

In addition, the Presidency and National Treasury run Operation Vulindlela, a joint effort to accelerate performance and progress in some key areas of structural reform, including economic and energy reform, job creation and skills development. It sounds like vacuous bureaucratic PowerPoint speak, but there are clever and smart people inside the Union Buildings who get it. I’ve listened to them, spoken with them, and seen them operate. They do know what they’re doing. 

Put all this together – the dialogues, the workstreams and the smart people in the Presidency – and suddenly things don’t look so dire. There is real understanding of the depth of the country’s biggest crises in all these conversations, and deep pools of knowledge and skills to go with a genuine commitment to effect change and get the country out of the morass we’re in.

The key remains the criminal justice system

But sitting in these dialogues, and based on intelligence emanating from the workstream meetings, it is clear that we’ll achieve very little unless the criminal justice system isn’t rescued from the unscrupulous and incompetent, and repaired by leaders who are resolute about the rule of law.

The ability and the effectiveness of the police to prevent or investigate crime has over the last decade and more been significantly reduced, despite enormous increases in budget and personnel. It is treated more as an employment agency than a calling. And national commissioners are appointed based on ANC factional loyalty.

The effect of a dysfunctional police, Hawks and crime intelligence division – Google “crime statistics” if you want supporting evidence – isn’t only felt at station level in rural areas or crime-riddled urban centres, but by prosecutors.

The National Prosecuting Authority is, for the moment at least, wholly reliant on investigations by the police and Hawks. And these investigations are often incomplete, or hobbled by political interference, or suffer because of incompetence or a lack of resources. Or all of the above. 

And this is where the role of big business, which has hitched its wagon to that of President Cyril Ramaphosa, can be transformative. Accountability and the rule of law simply must be at the centre of any future project to resurrect this country from the ANC’s misrule over the last decade and a half.

And for that to happen, trust in the criminal justice system will have to be restored. It will be restored if the police and the NPA can bring criminals to book. If those behind the murder of Babita Deokaran can be nailed, if the Guptas can be brought to justice and if tenderpreneurs can get short shrift, justice will be seen to be done.

Now is the time

Big business has not only committed moral support to Ramaphosa’s government, but material support. It is mustering in the region of R1 billion to establish a digital forensics laboratory to help law enforcement with complicated financial and other crimes. It is a helluva investment in the system and a vote of confidence in the country’s political leadership – confidence that this government surely does not deserve.

For that investment to be successful and for it to have lasting impact on ensuring justice and accountability, it needs professional leadership. Bheki Cele, the minister of police, and Fannie Masemola, the national police commissioner, are obviously and clearly out of their depth. The numbers confirm it. Cele is not much more than a populist political entrepreneur, while Masemola is but the latest of a series of poor appointments in the most senior police job.

Business must, as succinctly but as forcefully as possible, urge Ramaphosa to ensure that the police – from ministerial level to the national command structures – are led by serious, committed, and qualified people.

If business is serious about making a difference, and they don’t want to be strung along as part of an ANC government’s elaborate election campaign ahead of 2024, they need to use their influence to effect positive and progressive change. 

If they don’t, Froneman and Durand – and big business – may end up as pretty and expensive adornments on the never-ending ANC carousel of cadre deployments.

– Pieter du Toit is assistant editor: investigations

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Pieter du Toit | Big capital must issue an ultimatum to Ramaphosa about Cele, Masemola, rule of law
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