29/11/2017 06:45 SAST | Updated 29/11/2017 06:45 SAST

The ANC Juggles A Potentially Disastrous State Capture Catch-22

The ANC will have to realize that it can no longer play both sides.

President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses the parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, November 2, 2017.
Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses the parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, November 2, 2017.


The ANC's top structures are juggling with a treacherous Catch-22.

Let's say the party's left hand resembles an essential need to recover public trust and maintain its image as a moral liberation party of the people. Its right hand, then, resembles a system of patronage and factional politics entrenched in its ranks.

And it is juggling a very delicate ball of state capture between the two.

This scenario was evident when ANC members took to the podium in Parliament on Tuesday to issue their arguments in a debate on the institution's duty to investigate and hold the Executive to account when it comes to state capture.

And to no surprise, the party's elected representatives condemned corruption in all forms (as they have before), reaffirming that the ANC is succeeding in the fight against corruption by standing at the forefront of parliamentary investigations. But no mention was made of their president nor his elected ministers who have been at the centre of state capture allegations.

Before the debate began, two ANC backbenchers immediately objected to the continuing of proceedings, saying it would clash with ongoing investigations, such as the inquiry into state capture at state-owned companies by the portfolio committee on public enterprises.

In her argument, ANC MP Lusizo Makhubela-Mashele started strongly, saying parliament is duty-bound and obliged by law to act and investigate state capture.

"The ANC takes the issue of state capture seriously and will not shy away from all challenges confronting our young democracy and its institutions...The National Assembly also has wide-ranging powers to ensure accountability...Perhaps we must admit as members of this house that we have not being doing this to the fullest of our ability," she said.

But then, her demeanor changed.

"We must agree that this motion that the DA has brought before the House is premature and seeks to undermine the work before the committees on state capture...The notion that nothing is being done is wrong," she continued.

"The committees that are before this House are testing the very same facts that you (the opposition) are crying foul about...let us allow these committees to conclude their work."

One could argue that a parliamentary debate on its role in fighting state capture is not "premature" and should have been conducted at least a year ago when former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela released her State of Capture report.

One could also argue that although there have been successful inquiries into the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for example, no ministers – besides Lynne Brown or Mosebenzi Zwane (if you want to rank their testimonies on any level of accountability) – have been hauled in front of parliament to explain their alleged role in state capture.

Then there was ANC MP Mondli Gungubele who was dragged over the coals previously when he said he found it difficult to have confidence in the president ahead of parliament's motion of no confidence vote in August.

After repeating the ANC's policies on corruption, Gungubele went on the offensive.

"The challenge we are dealing with here has got little to do with corruption and a lot to do with mischief...There is an intention to undermine a credible process of parliament. If you keep things unclear, inexplicable and complex, the ANC's credibility remains in question," he said.

"There is a hidden benefit in that. It is that the ANC is a historically established and uncontested liberation movement and those who want to win elections in 2019 must do everything to compare with the ANC... We are not going to allow the opposition to sidetrack us."

Indeed, opposition parties used the debate as an opportunity for political grandstanding – they wouldn't be an opposition party if they did not. But that should not take away from the essence of the debate.

Is Parliament effective in its duties of holding the Executive to account?

Although there are parliamentary inquiries taking place, they are for now focused on the small fish. The big catches in Zuma's Cabinet have been left unattended. The biggest catch, Zuma himself, continues to laugh off any attempt at questioning his actions.

The public will be mindful of this. The ANC will have to realise that it can no longer play both sides. It cannot tell the public it is spearheading the fight against corruption while treading pussyfooted around their leaders implicated in state capture.

If this is the case, the ball will eventually drop, and the ANC will be left empty-handed.