The Criminalisation Of The State In South Africa: From Mandela To Zuma
In recent times, agencies that were created to protect citizens, fight organized crime, and smash corruption, have come under a dark cloud. Political infighting, factionalism, and dirty tricks at the top levels have become the norm. Instead of setting their sight on criminals and the corrupt, these institutions are caught up in a spiral of internal battles to stifle investigations into high profile cases.
Yet one of the goals of reforming our security apparatus at the end of apartheid was precisely to depoliticise them, and to enable them to execute their work without fear or favour. Regaining credibility in the eyes of the majority of South Africans was an important goal given the instrumental role of these institutions in advancing the apartheid project. In our idealism at the onset of democracy, little did we realise that the serpent had coiled itself in the Garden of Eden.
The dark cloud facing these institutions suggest that we have done very little to improve their integrity. Currently, three senior police officials, including head of the Hawks Anwa Dramat, head of the special investigative unit Vas Soni, and Mary-Anne Whittles, a programme unit manager who coordinated investigations into Nkandla, are either suspended or have resigned. This cannot be a mere coincidence. These are important institutions that were once thought to represent the best of South Africa’s commitment to creating a safe society and establishing the rule of law.
These institutions were initially fashioned to rid our country of organized crime and corruption. Sadly they are now in shambles and devoid of integrity. While institutional chaos did not begin with Zuma’s presidency, it has taken new proportions under him. No doubt, we have had better leaders before, but there was never a golden age in South African politics, except in our own imaginations. We certainly may have had goose bumps induced by the prospect of democratic change, but this should never have been confused with a functional political order with well-developed and independent institutions.
During the era of Nelson Mandela we had the shielding of Stella Sigcau by the leadership of the ANC, despite her corrupt relationship with the business tycoon Sol Kerzner. General Bantubonke Holomisa, who had pointed out this weed sprouting within the ANC, was instead censured by then deputy president Thabo Mbeki, and later expelled by the unanimous decision of the National Executive Committee on the 30 September 1996.
The South African Strategic Defense Procurement Package (arms deal), whose stench continues to defile the integrity of our institutions, was launched in the same year as Holomisa’s expulsion. Mbeki was its key pilot. Him and his key allies in government worked hard to emasculate the oversight role of parliament, silence critical voices in parliament, and packed the parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts with sycophants. The arms deal corruption compromised our institutions.
Truth was again sacrificed by Mbeki at the altar of political expediency in the matter concerning Jackie Selebi’s dalliance with criminals such as Glen Agglioti. Here again, Mbeki opted to make the then head of National Prosecuting Agency Vusi Pikoli a sacrificial lamb, while protecting his friend Selebi.
The idea of institutions that function independently of political influence, and execute their mandates without fear or favour, has never been properly internalised by the core of the ANC leadership upon assuming political power in 1994. Loyalty to senior cadres in the movement or key political allies has always taken precedence. This was all in the name of defending the revolution. Society has become worse for it. It is for this reason that we should never defend political leaders at all costs, as this is a betrayal of future generations.
Currently we are witnessing a situation where leading figures in key security agencies are caught up in factional battles, mudslinging, backstabbing, and court-battles. Such institutions should be above political fray and beyond partisan associations. It is clear that the police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko is supremely incompetent. In one dramatic display of his incompetence, Nhleko used a section of the South African Police Services Act that no longer exist to suspend the head of the Hawks Anwa Dramat, who had been investigating influential individuals, possibly linked to the Nkandla security upgrades. That alone should be sufficient reason to sack Nhleko.
This will, unfortunately, not happen since the rot has deepened at the top. The vey institutional chaos that is playing out in the South African Police Service is designed to protect Zuma’s personal interests. It has the collective approval of the ANC leadership and its membership; otherwise he would not have been allowed such a long leash. Zuma is the kind of leader who, given his compromised circumstances, thrives in ambiguity. Appointing weak or compromised individuals to preside over critical institutions of the state is part of his stratagem.
Before Dramat fell out with Nhleko last year, Mxolisi Nxasana, who is the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, had his own standoff with President Zuma. Again, this was around the handling of criminal cases that involved influential individuals, as well as Nxasana’s fall out with those close to Zuma within the NPA.
Just like Dramat had to turn to the courts to overturn his suspension, Nxasana interdicted Zuma from suspending him. Nxasana is currently facing a review of his fitness to hold power, by someone who is anything but fit to be the president of the republic. Robert Mcbride the head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate too has fallen out with Nheko and placed under suspension after he cleared Dramat and Shadrack Sibiya (Gauteng Hawks boss) of involvement in the rendition of 5 Zimbabweans in 2010. There is no doubt that disillusionment, demoralization, and a state of paralysis engulf these institutions. This takes away energy from fighting organized crime and corruption is a focused manner.
What is now apparent is that Zuma runs the state as if it were a criminal enterprise, with his party nodding in approval. If this is the case, he is certainly a security threat. It cannot be possible to guarantee long-term social stability under the circumstances where security agencies are disintegrating under the weight of dubious leadership. Not only that, the economic and social structure is creaking uncomfortably.
In the late 1990s, the political scientists Jean-Francois Bayart and Stephen Ellis wrote a book titled The Criminalisation of the State in Africa. In this work, they traced various ways in which powerful factions within nationalist movements after independence would undermine democratic processes, capture the state, and instrumentalise it for personal gain.
Personal rule, supported by loose, informal, and shadowy cliques, is the dominant political culture in such states. This is what is currently taking shape in South Africa. The state maintains a façade of modernity, while at the core it is captured by informalised networks and cliques, where corruption and criminality exist hand in glove with key state figures. Zuma has spawned a hedge of riff-raff and loyalists around him to secure his personal interests. Unlike the factions of old, under Zuma they do not need to trace their roots in the ANC. The word faction has now taken on a whole new meaning that is less ideological but venal and criminal.