OPINION: Flawed electoral system enabled state capture

The initial revelations at the Zondo commission, and those who will follow, support the conclusions of a multipronged research output in “Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is being stolen, May 2017” that the phenomenon of the “state capture” was made possible by structural weaknesses in our constitutional governance framework.

In this context a rogue president, Jacob Zuma, successfully commandeered the governing party and the state machinery to serve his interests and those of the Gupta family that seemed to exert control over him as the head of state. The success of this manipulation exists because our proportional party list electoral system conveys disproportionately too much power to party leaders and relegates the electorate to the periphery of democratic activity and participation.

I have, in the past, argued that changing the electoral system is key to a better South Africa and that this weakness contributes immensely to the poor framework for accountability in the state system. Parliamentarians show more allegiance to their political party leaders than the constituencies they are supposed to represent. This view has been supported by the majority decision of the Constitutional Court that Parliament failed in its duty to demand accountability from the state president over the Nkandla debacle.

The current electoral system promotes the inclination of party leaders to abuse the party proportional electoral system and its inherent power of patronage that goes with it. It is further compounded by the ideology of democratic centralism that subjugates the objective conscience and preferences of the individuals to the whims of the party and its leadership. The power of the party leaders to retain or remove a member from the list of representatives is a powerful tool for coercion. This is common for all parties.

In this scenario the rogue president conceived of a clever plan of using strategically placed executives in targeted state entities and departments, with senior coerced officials, to conspire to execute a carefully devised strategy to serve the interests of this family. This was made possible because the benefits of compliance far outweighed the risks of being exposed. The rogue president provided the executive safety net and cover. In such an environment the roots of corruption and hegemony sank deep and wide over a period of at least 10 years. The ANC was not an innocent bystander during this period. Cabinet and ANC parliamentarians cheered and defended his actions.

Parliament has just completed the task of drafting regulations for the impeachment of a sitting president as directed by the decision of the Constitutional Court. In my view the most urgent exercise is to open the Frederik van Zyl Slabbert electoral report for review by Parliament to enable the introduction of a mixed system. This will bring the constituencies back from the periphery into the active role of activating a culture of accountability.

It is critical that we all reflect on the following challenges and questions:

• Does President Cyril Ramaphosa have the capability and capacity to achieve ridding the ANC of the embedded structural culture of corruption and patronage?

• Does the current state of the party provide any hope for reinvention and repositioning?

Ramaphosa has firmly stated that his mission is to unite the ANC. I think he is very sincere and determined but, given the split in the party that is often expressed in violence, the only viable option for the ANC may be to undergo creative destruction and rebuild on the basis of its long-held values that have been sadly abandoned.

Lessons on organisational transformation indicate that often, when brands fail to live up to their values and ultimately fall out of favour, they undergo creative destruction followed by a structured effort to reinvent themselves and go on to ride a new wave. They make the best of a bad situation by restructuring and transforming to stay congruent with dynamic market shifts. But others disappear because of bad strategic judgements. In business it occurs all the time.

Self-destruction is more common among political parties because of internal competition. Leaders fight one another to be on top of the pile to have control of state power and all the other opportunities and benefits that come with it.

The task of reinventing an organisation and repositioning its brand will always be disruptive and difficult. But it cannot succeed without a comprehensive leadership overhaul. This is at the heart of creative destruction and reinvention.

After the ANC’s poor performance in the 2016 local government elections, Ramaphosa was a leading voice in affirming that the ANC had listened and understood the unequivocal message of the voters – that they rejected the corruption defining the party. He said the ANC would be transformed and the values of its founding fathers would be restored.

But the outcome of the party’s December national conference is less convincing that the message has been clearly understood.

The compositions of the ANC national executive committee and the national working committee have hardly changed to reflect a conscious effort by the party to renew itself with an inspiring leadership core. The composition of the top six also fails to meet the expectations of a leadership overhaul that is critical to any effort to reinvent the party.

In addition, with so much emphasis on the party as the political centre of power, it appears the balance of forces in the key decision-making organs of the ANC present very serious constraints on the leadership overhaul required to transform and reinvent the party.

These fault lines and constraints have been magnified at a critical moment when the party has to confront a significant increase in electoral competition.

It is natural, therefore, for all stakeholders, including the investment community, to have a sense that we are indeed entering a new era. But for that to materialise, Ramaphosa would need a degree of latitude and executive powers that are impossible under the current dispensation within the party to effect the fundamental and creative destruction required for its rebirth.

As a nation we must also temper our exuberance following the change of leadership in the ANC. The road ahead is fraught with danger and difficulties. A firm and unambiguous correction is urgently warranted. Whether it will happen remains to be seen.

- Motsohi is an organisational strategist at Lenomo Advisory and author of a new book, Fit for Purpose, available at thabangjmotsohi.com