Former AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma chats to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the ANC's national policy conference in June. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Cape Town - On May 28 this year, a new term emerged in the lexicon of South African politics: “state capture”.
It flowed from the leaking of up to 200 000 e-mails from the computers of a business family originally from India - the Guptas.

The story these e-mails told shocked the nation.

“State capture” proved to be nothing more than short-hand for skulduggery, corruption, tender manipulation and the appointment of certain ministers and heads of state-owned enterprises, which were decided outside the presidency and the government.

The alleged (at that point) connection of the Guptas with the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and members of his family, sparked widespread anger across the full political spectrum.

Zuma had always denied having a corrupt relationship with the family, but what became known as the #GuptaLeaks seemed to blow these denials out of the water.

The e-mails, the authenticity of which has never been challenged, confirmed what opposition parties were stating with increasing certainty: the Gupta family were running South Africa.

In addition to their control over the appointment of cabinet ministers and the chief executives and board members of state-owned enterprises, the e-mails also showed the extent of the involvement of Zuma’s son, Duduzane, in the machinations of the Gupta empire. It was said that he had made billions of rand through this “partnership”.

Also heavily compromised, according to the e-mails, was Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane whose CV was sent to the Guptas before he was appointed to his position. Also fingered was Faith Muthambi, whose powers as Communications Minister were strengthened after the intervention of the brothers.

Not involved with the Guptas was then finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. Two months earlier, on March 29, both were dismissed in a midnight cabinet purge by Zuma, a move that shocked even the ANC, and set him on a collision course with alliance partners Cosatu and the SA Communist Party.

The sacking of the highly-respected Gordhan resulted in ratings agencies downgrading South Africa to junk status, and the rand dropping in value against major currencies such as the British pound and the US dollar.

But an unrepentant Zuma stood firm. And later he sacked Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, which resulted in the SACP standing against the ANC in local government elections in the Metsimaholo council in the Free State.

Surprisingly, given the fact that elections are due in 2019, and that a “gatvol” factor was sweeping across South Africa, the majority of ANC members in Parliament supported their president.

In July, the DA moved a vote of no-confidence in Zuma. In an effort to get ANC members to support the motion, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa approached the Constitutional Court to rule on whether a secret ballot could be held. The Concourt ruled that there was nothing to stop this.

But the ANC, reluctant to be seen doing the bidding of the opposition parties, instructed its MPs to vote against the motion.

Not all were prepared to listen, though. KwaZulu-Natal-based MP Makhosi Khoza was the first to nail her colours to the mast. Not only did she say that she would vote against Zuma, but she urged other MPs to follow her example.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Teflon Man survived the vote of no-confidence, the eighth against him.

But what was surprising was that as few as 31 and, possibly, as many as 40 ANC MPs voted against him.

Long-standing members of the organisation were furious - and the prime suspects in a mini-witch-hunt were Khoza, Gordhan and Derek Hanekom.

The sacking of the highly-respected Pravin Gordhan resulted in ratings agencies downgrading South Africa to junk status, and the rand dropping in value against major currencies. Picture: Reuters/Ruben Sprich

Gordhan and Hanekom opted for maintaining a dignified silence. But not so Khoza. Hauled over the coals in Parliament and threatened in KwaZulu-Natal, she regularly traded punches with the ANC hierarchy, describing the organisation that she had called home for over 20 years as being “corrupt”.

It was inevitable that her days in the ANC would be numbered. Before being kicked out she quit, vowing to tackle corrupt members of the organisation by creating her own party, the African Democratic Change (ADeC).

Another feature of the year was a number of politically-related court cases, most of them involving Zuma. It led to some ANC members complaining about “judicial overreach”.

But Zuma lost most of the cases against him, including his attempts to wriggle out of facing the 783 charges of corruption and money-laundering that have been hanging over him for more than a decade.

No less messy were the court cases in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec earlier this month.

To the dismay of Zuma supporters, and presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the Pietermaritzburg High Court pronounced the election of the the KwaZulu-Natal ANC’s provincial executive committee null and void.

It prevented the affected officials from voting as members of the provincial executive at the vitally important elective conference.

Meanwhile in the second half of the year, ANC MPs finally discovered that they had a backbone. Together with opposition MPs in portfolio committees they were impressive in questioning ministers and chief executives in departments such as Communications, Transport and, especially, Public Enterprises.

The goings-on at Eskom proved to be a horror story. After his tearful resignation as head of the electricity utility Brian Molefe procured a R30million pension that became the centre of a bitter court battle as he tried to justify this amount.

The year ended in Parliament as Eskom executives laid bare the details of the company’s shocking secrets. The parliamentary inquiry exposed the state utility, which had three chief executives within a year, as a corruption-riddled entity.

Towards the end of the year, the bitter fight to head the ANC was decided when former unionist-turned-business magnate Cyril Ramaphosa edged out former AU head Dlamini Zuma.

In many ways, Dlamini Zuma, seeking to become the ANC’s first woman president, was her own worst enemy.

What possessed her to surround herself with people like the totally discredited Carl Niehaus, and some of the most incompetent ministers in the cabinet, only she will know.

Ramaphosa’s victory is, according to analysts, likely to make life more difficult for opposition parties, notably the DA, which will be gearing up to challenge the ANC in the 2019 elections.

Weekend Argus