On the Political Front:Looking back on 2023 

One thing South Africa doesn’t do is “uneventful”

Several guests have written asking for more detail on various aspects of South Africa’s political arena. It is difficult to summarize succinctly with my superficial knowledge and without oversimplifying, but here are but a few key events. 

Loadshedding remains the hot topic 

In December 2022 Andre De Ruyter, CEO of SA’s power utility Eskom, handed in his resignation letter. Two days before, his morning coffee delivered to his office desk was laced with a little cyanide (truth .. no irony here). On resigning, he bravely agreed to stay on until end March 2023, but after his late February bombshell hour-long interview was aired on public television, his notice period was curtailed with immediate effect. The full interview on You Tube is well worth watching. He went into hiding immediately (whistle blowers are in great danger in South Africa) and has subsequently left the country.   

Zapiro’s cartoons say more than any words can so it is with gratitude that I use his brilliant satirical commentaries on South African political shenanigans. They have been published in the Daily Maverick – the brave publication which has talked to truth to power in its endless investigative reporting.  South Africans owe them big time.

Daily Maverick has an edited version of De Ruyter’s account of the criminal cartels of organized crime which brought Eskom to its knees. Citizens should weep at the irony of the detailed planning and successful organization of these criminal syndicates – if this efficiency and expertise had been applied to Eskom recovery, the country would be in a very different place.  These Mafia-like syndicates have, as can be expected, links to high-up influential political figures.  And State Capture ensured that the various law-enforcement agencies: the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Hawks and the State Security Agency, were rendered toothless in the face of this criminal activity.

Private intelligence was commissioned to probe sabotage in Eskom. They identified no fewer than four criminal cartels (referred to in the cartoon above) controlling Matla power station near Kriel; Duvha near Witbank; Tutuka near Standerton; and Majuba near Newcastle. Close ties to politically connected individuals were uncovered.

Although South Africa will continue to have load shedding, many private citizens and companies have mitigated the damage with installation of solar back-up systems.  Liz at Lancaster invested in solar back-up in the public spaces (panels, inverter and batteries) and exterior motion-sensor solar lights. So with back-up lighting in all units, uninterrupted high-speed internet, (100 mbps), gas heating and cooking options, solar geysers with gas back-up, etc. – all is covered. 

Departure of some key political figures 

In March the Vice-President David Mabuza resigned. He was sworn in as Deputy President in 2019 despite allegations of corruption against him. His name also appears in the articles referred to above as well as in multiple investigations around land claims and conservation in Mpumalanga.  During his term, Mabuza seemed to spend more time in Russia getting medical treatment than he spent in South Africa.

In June, Ace Magashule, one the main proponents of the RET faction (Radical Economic Transformation), and so also de facto one of Ramaphosa’s detractors, was expelled from the ANC.

In September the disgraced Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane was removed from her post. Hers was the first impeachment of a public officer under the current Constitution. Her successor, Kholeka Gcaleka, already has a slight taint to her record as she cleared Ramaphosa of any wrongdoing in the Phala Phala saga. The dark cloud of the “couch millions” might well continue to follow Ramaphosa as he campaigns in the 2024 election. Sadly, Mkhwebane and Gcaleka were of a very different calibre from Thuli Madonsela (another South African hero) who, as Public Protector from 2009 to 2016, released her final report “State Capture” in Oct 2016, just as her 7-year term of office came to an end.

Bedfellows and coalitions 

The Lady R incident (the Russian ship that docked in secrecy in the Simonstown naval base in December 2022) sent worldwide ripples of controversy over South Africa’s relationship with Russia. The message of cosying up to Russia was further exacerbated by the BRICS summit held in Sandton in August which, with the threat of Putin’s attendance, presented a political tightrope for Ramaphosa. A collective sigh of relief was heard around South Africa when the Puppet Master said he would not attend in person but via video call.  Will the addition of 6 new members to the bloc (Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), lead to any shift in the world order?

From Moonshot Pact to Multiparty Charter 2024: In April Jan Steenhuisen, leader of the opposition DA [Democratic Alliance], announced the formation of the Moonshot Pact, a coalition of smaller, like-minded parties working together to try and unseat the ANC (and possible EFF coalition) in 2024. A national convention of these parties was held in August to agree on a broad set of policies that all parties could take to their constituents. A lot can happen with the rebranded Multiparty Charter 2024 before the 2024 elections. But it has certainly added another dynamic to the political arena.

In December Zuma announced his endorsement of a new political party called Umkhonto We Sizwe, angering the ANC as this is the name of the now disbanded paramilitary wing of the ANC. Furthermore, Zuma says he will remain in the ANC .. a clear challenge to Ramaphosa to face the consequences (as in the events of July 2022), if Zuma is expelled from the Party (which according to the ANC constitution is what should happen).   

But the more things change ….

Zuma continues to

    • avoid appearing in court over the arms deal … 19 years on 
    • have extensive support In Kwazulu Natal (it remains to be seen how this plays out in the 2024 elections)
    • be a thorn in the side of Ramaphosa and his supporters within the ANC
    • carry the shocking history of corruption, emptying of state coffers and working with the Guptas in State Capture which brought the country to its knees.  Kotze has written a very clear explanation of the mechanics and goal of State Capture.

       “State capture”, the [Zondo] commission in the end conceptualised, was not only corruption in the public sector or the relationship between Zuma’s family and the Guptas, Zuma’s friends behind the capture of the state. It was also about infiltration of the governing African National Congress (ANC) politicians into state institutions and state-owned enterprises.

      It was about how the politicians used their positions in these institutions to develop a corrupt relationship with the private sector – both local and international – and share the material gains. They included Bosasa, KPMG, McKinsey, Trillian Capital, Bell Pottinger and several South African banks. The commission also exposed how these politicians appointed supporters to key criminal justice, revenue service and intelligence institutions.

      No words can describe the damage Zuma’s presidency did to South Africa

Julius Malema continues the populist far-left rhetoric of the EFF [Economic Freedom Front], claiming to represent the poor and the marginalized (while pursuing a pretty extravagant lifestyle himself). Despite the history of corruption of members of the EFF, their role as “kingmaker” in power-sharing will certainly be part of the 2024 electoral discourse.  

The EFF called for a national shutdown in March 2023 to demand the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa and an end to load-shedding. The turnout was much lower than expected .

Ramaphosa continues to be criticized for his inability to act decisively on the serious challenges facing the country and his inaction on the promised clean-up of corruption, maladministration and “tendrepreneurship” exposed in the Zondo report completed in June 2022.   As always Zapiro’s images speak a 1000 words.   

From Zeroes to Heroes

The recent South African delegation to the ICJ requesting the court to hear its request to order Israel to stop its military actions in Gaza, has attracted world attention. It seems a final decision could take years but interim measures could be called for within weeks. 

The investigative press like the Daily Maverick, the Mail and Guardian  amaBunghane  and GroundUp continue to dig for … well … amaBunghane is isiZulu for dung beetles! South Africa has many heroes and the investigative journalists who work for these publications are but some of them.

We salute them along with the whistleblowers who have both lost their lives and risked their lives. 

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7 thoughts on “On the Political Front:Looking back on 2023 

  1. Excellent Article Liz. I do lovvvve your Newsletter!
    Now!!!Please explain the Houthi’s to me too.
    Jenny Anderson

  2. This was a really stunning Newsletter and I am so sad this is my first one! I love it, love it, love it !
    As an SA resident it was a reminder to see the big events that have happened over 2023. We do survive and we love being here despite it all.

    Janet King

  3. Loved all parts of the newsletter- the personal, the B&B and the national. You have fearlessly reviewed all of the unseemly, difficult, embarrassing aspects of life in South Africa.

    We appreciate your candor. It won’t stop us from coming back to Liz at Lancaster.

  4. Great news letter, concise, informative and fun!? I am very happy I am still on your mailing list.
    May I be included in seeing your blogs?

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