The May election was pitched by the ANC establishment, as well as sympathetic media commentators, as an unambiguous battle between good and evil. This, they argued, would be a must-win showdown between the anti-corruption ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa and the state-capture ANC of Jacob Zuma.
Well, Ramaphosa won the conventional battle handily, but Zuma’s forces show no sign of surrender and have simply gone guerrilla. And they are using insider knowledge to devastating effect.
This week, the former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini, dropped by Ramaphosa from the Cabinet, resigned as an MP. Her rambling resignation letter made veiled warnings of “foreign elements” steering the ANC off course; predicted Ramaphosa’s early exit; accused the wives of unnamed ministers of corrupt practices; and accused Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan of murky dealings at the behest of the banks.
One can expect further accusations from disgruntled Zuma-ites who are being dumped from key ANC positions. Their challenge is to smear the Ramaphosa administration with enough detail to sway public opinion, but not quite enough to goad SA’s sluggish police and prosecutors to conduct investigations that will inevitably end up also jailing players from the Zuma-Gupta axis.
The Zupta forces also have a powerful ally. Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane is flailing energetically at the Ramaphosa grouping and is inflicting real damage, at least in public perceptions, if not by so far uncovering anything of prosecutorial substance.
Nevertheless, it would be an enormous setback for the reformists if Gordhan was neutralised by the fallout from at least four new investigations that Mkhwebane has launched, to examine accusations against him.
These inquiries relate to matters that, in some cases, date back a decade and have been investigated half a dozen times already. This sudden burst of energy comes from a public protector who, for years, appears to have ignored or brushed over blatant corruption by the state capture forces.
A greater setback to the reformists would be if the president, Mr Clean himself, was linked directly to corruption.
Mkhwebane’s dogged investigation into whether Ramaphosa had knowledge of tainted funds, donated through his son, to his 2017 campaign for the party presidency, is clearly politically driven, given her earlier reluctance to engage substantively with the shenanigans of Zuma and his cronies.
But her motivations are irrelevant, should she uncover evidence of wrongdoing. As far as Ramaphosa goes, all that matters is her now finalised report.
As is his right, Ramaphosa had first-sight of the findings and asked for a fortnight to cross-examine witnesses and to challenge her conclusions. Mkhwebane has given him a week, until June 21.
This is make-or-break stuff. If the report is typical Mkhwebane - in other words, so legally inept and patently partisan that it is reversed on appeal - she will almost certainly face parliamentary recall. If it withstands judicial scrutiny, Ramaphosa will face enormous pressure to go quietly or to be fired by his party.
It would be most ironic. One would have a R500 000 campaign donation unseating a president, whose predecessor remains legally unscathed, despite a decade-long presidency marked by literally billions stolen from the state.
It would also be a political tragedy. The anti-corruption impetus would falter and eventually peter out. The Zupta faction would reassert control of the ANC and the country.
On past history, however, the worst is unlikely to happen. Every one of Mkhwebane’s reports challenged in court has been overturned.
Mkhwebane is also behaving increasingly eccentrically and may just implode, without any judicial or parliamentary assistance.
She recently chose YouTube to give public notice of additional investigations into Gordhan. She then confided on Twitter that it was God himself that had appointed her to the public protector position and only He who could remove her.
As for journalists who had called her a “moron” and others who had “insulted” her, she had a way to deal with them as well. She was in the process of opening cases against them in terms of the Public Protector Act.
It’s going to be an awfully crowded dock.
- Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye