According to ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang, South Africa’s public unrest in July was entirely the ANC’s fault.

Unresolved ANC tensions meant that the Radical Economic Transformation group used ex-President Jacob Zuma’s July contempt of court arrest to launch protests to embarrass the government, according to ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang.

The ANC was entirely responsible for the July public disorder and violence, given the long-standing Radical Economic Transformation grouping, whose adherents believed that once former President Jacob Zuma was arrested, they should protest.

“When the rupture occurred, the ANC people clearly lit the spark. We would not have had the mayhem we have had if we had been able to manage this [tension]. It is the ANC crisis manifesting itself in public.”

And it was “quite clear” that the intention was to embarrass the government as much as possible and undermine public trust in it. “Because what they did paralysed the economy and shocked the country.”

Msimang on Wednesday was in conversation with Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) Executive Director Ann Bernstein as part of the [email protected] series of webinars to mark the centre’s 25th anniversary.

The outspoken ANC stalwart and Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, who led SANParks and SA Tourism and also served as Home Affairs director-general, is one of the veterans and stalwarts who have been speaking out since at least 2016, when the #GuptaLeaks exposed State Capture and corruption during Zuma’s presidency.

More recently, Msimang did not mince words when he issued a “unauthorised ANC apology” for the widespread devastation in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July.

During a wide-ranging and candid conversation with Bernstein on Wednesday, Mavuso stated that what was urgently needed was clarity on what happened during the July unrest.

“We still don’t know who did what. That’s a matter that requires really urgent action. There is a need to find out exactly what happened.”

Maybe South Africa is inquiry-fatigued, but information on those incidents and events remains obscure – never mind senior ministers and officials giving contradictory statements.

“You can’t talk about counter-revolutionary. There is not revolutionary behaviour to counter,” said Mavuso, calling on action to deal with poverty and help the poor.

And that included dealing with pervasive corruption which may be dismissed as petty, but greatly affected people’s lives. This corruption could range from having to pay a bribe to get medicines at a public no-fee hospital, to having to pay a so-called fee to obtain a driver’s licence.

“Many people tell us the most corrupt institution is the police – and those are the people, who are meant to protect, and to whom people must report crimes. It is bad,” said Msimang, who is chairperson of Corruption Watch.

Since its establishment in 2012, the anti-corruption and public interest advocacy group has received 2,300 corruption reports from ordinary people. This year 200 such reports have already been submitted.

“[Corruption] is pervasive and it demoralises the people and they lose trust and confidence in government.”

But the private sector needed to shoulder responsibility for its role in the corruption.

The government should have taken a very strong stand against those organisations that were “actively using public sector people to loot the state” and someone should look into why banks seemed not to be aware of the “money externalisation by the Guptas, for such a long time”.

It was important to investigate what had happened, said Msimang.

“There would be no corruption in the public sector if it wasn’t for the private sector, they are the ones who have the resources. That they are complicit is beyond doubt.”

Meanwhile, South Africa continued to live in the shadow of the nine “devastated”, rather than wasted, years. “These were years of devastation when there was a hollowing-out of state-owned organisations, criminal justice organisations, of departments, of municipalities, of Parliament. Even the ANC.”

Senior ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) members who are caught up in corruption face serious consequences, such as prison time. That may have been one of the lingering consequences of the state’s hollowing out, even though steps have been taken to reverse this, such as appointments to the prosecution authority, tax collector, and Special Investigating Unit.

The NEC was aware of the Gupta corruption – “it was just too obvious,” according to Msimang – and could have intervened as the highest decision-making body between national elective conferences every five years.

“There was always a group of people who fought and fought hard for right decisions to be made. They ended up losing their jobs, and they didn’t care.”

But this group was a minority.

“Zuma was feared, I don’t know, almost like a demigod.”

In the politics of the stomach, you do not want to upset your boss, because he can fire you. People thought it was too perilous to speak out perhaps because of a lack of other employment prospects. And people became corruptible.

“If you point the finger at me, you know five people will point fingers at you. That really ruined the organisation.”

But Msimang remains ANC, through and through.

“I would not still be in the ANC if I did not think it wasn’t redeemable,” he told Bernstein, but acknowledged it would be a steep mountain to climb.

Even if people decided that the ANC should sit in the opposition benches, it was worth saving because the organisation had such a rich history and was founded by ordinary people.

But now is a good time for ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa to take the necessary steps to clean up what he can within the ruling party, if not the government.

“The unity the president so desires… it’s not going to be forged with people who are thugs, or thieves, or people who are involved in corruption,” said Msimang.

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