Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head, also thinks free trade contributes to employment creation and increased incomes. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head, also thinks free trade contributes to employment creation and increased incomes. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

OPINION: We face a season of long knives

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jul 23, 2019

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When Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report on the now infamous R500000 CR17 (President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign account) was leaked about a month ago, I penned a wish hoping that the claim was fake.

But when Mkhwebane released her final report on Friday, deep anxiety set in as I contemplated the dire implications of her remedial actions.

Opposition benches are already calling for implementation of the remedial action. The fifth administration has been burdensome.

Ramaphosa’s new dawn has started on a difficult path with an economy that has failed to perform and unemployment at its highest level.

Many have labelled this decade as one lost. So hellish is the start of this period that a prospect for all hands on deck is fast being replaced by all hands on daggers.

How we wished we could start on a clean slate with everyone united to give South Africa, its peoples and, especially its youth, a fighting chance in hell.

But now we face a season of long knives. If this is the catharsis Ramaphosa has previously referred to, then even the brave have to take a step back.

It brings to mind how Abraham Lincoln, who eventually became the 16th president of the US, facing resistance from slave owners in the South, led the nation through a protracted civil war.

But he held his course on directing Americans to transform and created conditions for a society that would respect constitutionalism. And Lincoln was assassinated for his efforts.

Aren’t we in a similar moment?

Ramaphosa has already declared his respect for Mkhwebane’s office and this delivers hope for rebuilding an institution whose authority and integrity has been under fierce attack in the last decade. So the bitter medicine starts with Ramaphosa.

Debilitating as the report is on our psyche, a distinct potency of its timing is that beyond the question of funding for internal contestation within political parties, it should be tied to the funding of South African elections more generally. This is a question Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has already broached.

So let us not waste a good crisis.

The two issues are certainly related.

All these developments cannot be in vain as they lead to improvements in our constitutional democracy. Our experience raises questions for review of the exercise of democracy, including the need for implementation of constituency based electoral reform. It is possible that Mkhwebane and Ramaphosa might be engaged in a drawn out constitutional horn-locking.

This is a fight worth watching because it is a watershed moment for South Africa’s electoral system. Because of its weight on constitutionalism, it might be wise that should Ramaphosa choose to have a review, it should go directly to the Constitutional Court, where both matters of funding - be it for internal democracy of parties or for inter democracy contestation - can be dealt with once and for all. Mogoeng is on record that private funds should not be in our elections, because of favours called in at a later date.

Perhaps this is a major headache and moral dilemma for all political parties and South African society. We need the catharsis for all political parties, and this is part of what Ramaphosa should do to entrench constitutionalism through constitutional means. It is the fee we must pay. This could be what inspires and compels us to have all hands on deck in this sixth administration.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him on and @PaliLehohla


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