Part 002: Is South Africa emerging into a securocratic state with leanings of dictatorship under Ramaphosa?

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

The making of this securocratic State ultimately unveils perhaps a bigger demon that we never in democracy had bargained. Perhaps a more disturbing tendency of dictatorship is emerging with Ramaphosa leading SA. Dictatorships are always narcissistic and oblivious to the need to place the masses first.

They almost instinctively seek to capture the vital organs that define the State. Therefore, the interest of dictators naturally will include capturing the courts, intelligence institutions, and public broadcasting services institutions to attain their goals. It’s a form of leadership that readily and without thorough consideration unleashes the police and military on its citizens as a means to control the perceived attack on his Presidency.

Centralising intelligence, deceptively called “State Security” under an insecure, ideologically suspect leader is always the first step of establishing the foundation for a dictatorship. History is replete with examples since we know Hitler did the same. So did Mussolini and also Pinochet. Now Ramaphosa has joined this group. Less we forget the last time this was done in South Africa was by apartheid, Securocrat President PW Both, when he wanted to suppress the growing grassroots community-based peoples resistance to Apartheid. South Africans, therefore, know this centralising shares the same mentality.

Interestingly, the Mufamadi Report that recommended the President centralise power, was also critical of Ramaphosa’s predecessor being close to intelligence claiming that it would be politicised. Guess what now Mufamadi’s newly appointed ‘State Security’ Advisor will be central to the politicisation of intelligence as hosted in the presidency.  Thus get ready for a dramatic increase in surveillance and harassment of Ramaphosa’s domestic opposition within and outside the ANC.

Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, identifies ten signs to assess if even democratically elected presidents may fit the profile. Meaning in modern times, it is not uncommon to hear news stories of potential dictators selected by their party members and citizens. The elections are manipulated through the intimidation of voters to ensure the dictator’s victory. Dictators unveil themselves through their actions, deeds, inaction, an absence of actual values in which all that matters is the personal interest. They often will manipulate, even threaten and pay to get their way. We herewith will attempt to assess if Ramaphosa fits the bill of an emerging potential dictator.

Rigging the [elections] System

The road to the SA presidency leads through a party leadership contest. Meaning whoever has any ambitions to lead SA warrants securing the presidency of the ANC first. We know Ramaphosa had ambitions for high office as far back as 1978 when he told Dolowitz, the attorney where he was doing articles, ‘one day when I am president.’

Ramaphosa thus needed to win the ANC presidency to become President of SA. The 54th ANC Conference held in December 2017 is now commonly accepted by both factions as a rigged election. His faction members have long conceded to how they were buying votes.  Its rigged state is derived from the free flow of money in the buying of delegates to attain victory. Ramaphosa’s victory sacrificed the principles of a democratic, fair and transparent elections process in the ANC and has set a new wrong standard which in all likelihood will be repeated in 2022. It will just need much more than R1bn this time around.

A cult of [Ramaphosa] personality

More than often, the issue of cult personality surrounds dictators. It is predicated on mistruths borne in fuelled myths. One such myth in the Ramaphosa leadership is that he represents the only and last hope for SA. This myth is advanced by self-serving white and global interest layered groups. On another score, we saw this when Fikile Mbalula dared to claim Ramaphosa, meaning his persona won the election for the ANC in 2019. The myth of Ramaphosa, the billionaire businessman that would automatically fix the SA economy and deliver economic prosperity, was sold by white monopoly capital and its stooges like Gordhan, who told SA to vote for Cyril and the rating agencies will back off. He was thus sold as the best the ANC could produce as the answer for SA’s woes. The cult personality sees efforts across all spectra of society, often Ramaphosa’s case mostly media, know the interest on the ruler as essentially designed to build him up in the minds of the citizens as somehow the only one capable of bringing prosperity to the nation. Ramaphosa’s prism of self details one that sees himself as an enigma as Anthony Butler in his Biography let us know.

Capturing the Media

Freedom of the press is a fundamental right and core principle of democracy. Yet the South African mainstream media in practical expression under Ramaphosa details a bought media. It is not difficult to argue that mainstream media privately owned in SA act as official brand managers for Ramaphosa. Its strange lack of engaging and keeping Ramaphosa to account is glaring. Instead, they deem it their work to typically ignore, forget, and turn a blind eye to a litany of wrongs the president continues to commit.

As I pen this article, the pro-Ramaphosa media network is intricately at work to delete the historical records of indiscretions and blatant corruption of Enoch Godongwana.  Mail and Guardian appear to lead this parade. We heard of the Thuma Mina WhatsApp group, set up for journalists to fix narratives, coach each other coordinating stories. While some journalists sought to downplay the group’s existence, a core number of those are public, and their bias for Ramaphosa is more than evident. Until now, we hear that a group of journalists some editors last Monday was doling out R800k they received to run some stories. Interesting again, the same culprits.

Ramaphosa has bought the media; dictators strive to own the media and create a personality network in their interest. How is there no investigative journalist authentically interested in critically engaging Ramaphosa in holding him accountable? They lack the energy to investigate the many claims against him and often deflect anything negative example, the tainted finance minister. They are silent on challenging the democratic justification of his decisions to keep his bank statement sealed, not be transparent, and why he would place his interest in political survival before that of the nation. They lack the energy to challenge his unilateral relocation of state security intelligence into the Presidency. Nor do they ever in journalist ethics engage the manifold blatant blunders he has made thus far. Somehow they are incredibly patient with him, or maybe they are in his deep- pockets.

Opposition Muted

Dictators work to mute all forms of opposition. The recent reshuffle again laid bare how a Ramaphosa leadership silences opposition to confront him on appointing his executive with incoming Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, a confirmed tainted man.  In a democracy, any official opposition would be raising more than red flags for this appointment. In what is a strange experience, the opposition that usually shouts corruption appear wholly muted. We know this muted state of the opposition is not organic meaning we must ask is there perhaps some deal in the background between Ramaphosa and the opposition.

Enforcing the law for only one side.

Dictators will tell you they work for the upkeep of the law and the constitution, but on close examination, a practice of enforcing the law for only one side is the order. The much talked about Step-Aside resolution of the ANC is not a one-liner but details at least nine aspects to define. However, the application of the step-aside resolution is necessarily enforced only on those who are not in the CR faction. Even in the ANC organisational context of its constitution, we saw how the law vanished as removed until no one can explain who and when it was removed. On disappearing from its constitutional directing privilege when Section 25 on no member shall raise money to buy votes disappeared. We heard Minister of Police Bheki Cele last night announcing they now going to arrest politicians. The politicians to be arrested will not be those who are in the CR faction but those it deems outside.

Demonising the [ANC – internal] Opposition.

Dictators often derive meaning and relevance intrinsically linked to the demonising of opposition. Our discourse aided by the media has long-established the notion of politicians as demons and other angels. He ran a campaign of Anti-Corruption shadowboxing his predecessor in kaftans of state capture. Yet today, his Presidency in national executive include more than questionable characters, some outright corrupt individuals that he protects for the interest of his longevity immanent in a second term.

Seeking to convince people that your party opponents are in league with the nation’s enemies is an old tactic in politics. It has been part of the Ramaphosa playbook ever since he sought to accuse his predecessor of state capture and himself as number two as angelic. Like Trump stoked the birther controversy over Obama’s citizenship, so Ramaphosa attempted to blame Zuma for state capture until he dared to declare the latter’s two terms ‘nine wasted years.’ Dictators specialise in demonising those who dare to stand against them.

A Suspect Questionable Judiciary

In any democracy, the judiciary has a vital role in safeguarding and protecting the constitution and its values and ensuring the consolidation of democracy and the realisation of a better life for all. The role of the judiciary is to adjudicate disputes according to law. In South Africa, under Ramaphosa leadership, a court ruling has become very predictable related to his foes. We have seen how the courts and judges were encroaching and straying into the political terrains in judicial overreach.

Perhaps it’s fair to say our judiciary in democracy has never been this questionable, suspect and readily accused of bias informed by a political player who is the President. You hear claims of a judiciary that is captured and wholly bought. Will we soon hear of how judges in the Constitutional Court are implicated in undeniable corruption?

Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents.

A hallmark of corrupt quasi-democracies is the executive’s willingness to use the power of the State to reward business leaders who are loyal and to punish anyone who gets in the way.  The funding of the CR17 campaign, which has its bank statements sealed as per court order, denies us to engage in transparency on the efficacy of state capture and the current rewarding of those who contributed. The COVID pandemic presents an economy that some of the CR17 funders uniquely benefit from. Walt contends it is partly how Erdogan kept amassing power and undermining opponents in Turkey. We also hear Matthew Yglesias when he asserts in Vox that is also how Berlusconi operated in Italy. It helped wreck the Italian economy and made endemic corruption even worse.

The recent reshuffle is not as innocent and sincere as some want to make it off. The Water and Sanitation Portfolio is laden with corruption, and some cases have stalled in courts because of political protection. We can thus surmise that the Ramaphosa leadership have plans for the water portfolio for the billions that it holds.

The Useful Tool of Fearmongering.

Stoking public fears about safety and well-being is a classic autocratic tactic designed to convince a frightened population to look to the Leader for protection.  We vividly remember how  Donald J. Trump was a master at playing this card during his campaign for high office, warning of “Mexican rapists,” foreign governments that “steal our jobs,” “scores of recent migrants inside our borders charged with terrorism,” and so on. A frightened population tends to think first about its safety, forget about fundamental liberties, and would be more likely to look the other way as a president amassed greater power. The recent unrest details another dimension consistent with fearmongering.

Ramaphosa presents a South African public devastated by the wave of violence and destruction as an easy target to hate for the calamity that befell our nation in a classical sleight of a hand propaganda ploy.

SANDF deployed to SABC

In the aftermath of Ramaphosa’s reshuffle, we learned that SANDF Members were seen at the South African Broadcastingsating Corporation has confirmed that the members of the South African National Defence Force have been deployed at its offices in Auckland Park, Johannesburg and Durban. Brigadier Mafi Mgobbozi said the deployment of the soldiers to the SABC  will remain until they are told to withdraw.  While the SABC is a national key point, the presence of the SANDF confirms the insecurity and paranoia of the head of state.  Ramaphosa is. This is exactly what dictators do.

So, when you saw him flanked by the heads of SANDF and Police, when you see him unilaterally taking over the national intelligence function of state security and centralising communications, do not forget it’s the same guy who dared to allude to State of emergency as not off the table. We see the personality of the cult, a bought media, a questionable judiciary, the muting of opposition, the application of the law for some, the militarization of society. Witness an overreliance on SANDF and police to solve political matters. We experience the naked fearmongering know that, and we plausibly may see the beginning of a soulless dictator when it comes to human life. I have elsewhere contended we must realise empty political leaders ultimately rely on the power of brute force [army and police] to stay in control.

South Africa must smell the coffee since we appear back in Apartheid. You guessed right, Mr Public Relations [Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa] wants a second term at all costs.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA