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A survival kit for the ANC

It’s crucial that a parasite controls its intake. After all, if the host is sucked dry and consequently expires, so too does the parasite.

It is this self-preserving biological imperative that lies behind the African National Congress’s intention to “name and shame” corrupt civil servants. This, it claims, will reduce the amount of R30-billion that the government estimates is plundered annually from the public purse by its own employees.

But Justice Minister Jeff Radebe’s proposal is not really a serious attempt at tackling the blight of corruption. It’s all just another bit of political legerdemain, concealing more than it reveals.

For President Jacob Zuma’s administration it’s all a matter of easing, not trying to stop, the hijacking of state resources. If it wanted to reduce corruption to the minimal levels, that Transparency International uses as best practice benchmarks — as has been achieved in the Scandinavian nations, Australasia and Canada — it would have to take actions that would be unpalatable, even disastrous, to the ANC as a party.

Firstly, the administration would have to allow law enforcement and the National Prosecuting Agency complete autonomy to investigate and charge miscreants.

Since many of those breaking the law in the body might be high up in the ANC and government, it is critical to the ANC’s survival that criminal procedures are directed at the “right” people and away from the “wrong” people.

A vivid example of this is the fate of expelled youth leader Julius Malema. While he was politically onside, he was effectively immune from scrutiny, despite questions being raised regarding his astonishingly rapid acquisition of wealth; when he became a political threat to the Zuma administration, he soon felt the heat of scrutiny.

Secondly, it would have to forswear some of the very activities that keep it solvent. It could no longer have Chancellor House, the ANC’s commercial arm, participating in multibillion-rand state contracts – it made a billion rand in revenue from its shareholding in Hitachi Power Africa alone, when Hitachi got the Eskom contract to build a power station.

Thirdly, Zuma’s administration would have to abandon the practice of cadre deployment. Deployment was originally meant to ensure state spending on goods and services benefited the previously excluded, thus encouraging black capital formation. Instead it has been degraded to a mechanism that favours certain ANC members, which allows some to control the access to government contracts that line their pockets and those of friends and relatives.

When the Congress of South African Trade Unions pressed for lifestyle audits of government ministers and senior officials and demanded that they entirely divest their business interests, the ANC acted swiftly to pull its starry-eyed ally back into line.

As Zuma put it, crassly but at least honestly, those who support the ANC will see their businesses “multiply”.

The problem for the ANC is now the sheer scale of corruption, the hordes of cheeky “little people” who assume that the bad behaviour of their social betters gives them licence to belly up to the trough. For there are frighteningly many of them.

The Social Services Agency identified 79 416 public servants who in 2011 stole social grants. Only 15 000 were prosecuted, while as part of the ANC’s steal-now-pay-later initiative, some 30 000 were allowed to pay back the money in installments and “punished” with a disciplinary final warning. This week the public service commission reported that in the past six years the fiscus lost more than R1.7-billion in 6 527 reported cases of public servant misconduct.

These are the “greedy” people that the ANC leadership now – belatedly – wants to make an example of. It has perhaps dawned on the party that if this free-for-all exsanguination of South Africa’s public purse is allowed to continue, there will soon be nothing left to steal.

Radebe’s proposal will change very little, even his “named and shamed” list will be of telephone directory thickness. Because it won’t include the ANC’s top-nobs who have a warrant to steal; its deterrence value will be marginal.

In any case, in the moral-free zone that the ANC presides over there is no shame attached to corruption and theft. Why should there be, if there are no consequences, such as jail time, exclusion from public office or state employment, or expulsion from ANC-designated “feeder” areas?

Any moderately aware South African can, off-the-cuff, name half a dozen public figures implicated in corruption who swan about totally unabashed. Shame? In South Africa? Radebe must be kidding.