Ramaphosa, Diko, the ANC and the Rise of the ‘Covidpreneurs’

For a mass workers party on a socialist programme!

by Shaun Arendse

In a thirty minute speech on 23 July, President Ramaphosa spent nearly one-third of it (eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds!) promising action against Covid-related corruption and profiteering. Every person watching that broadcast knew that he was, first and foremost, addressing the members and deployees of his own party, the ANC. That this was even necessary in the middle of an unprecedented global health crisis was an admission of the complete incapacity of the ruling party to take society forward. Even as thousands die, millions of jobs are lost and livelihoods destroyed, as hunger and starvation haunts communities, the daily ‘to-do’ lists of these crooks and ‘crony cadres’ always looks the same: Item #1 – self-enrichment.

At the very start of the pandemic the MWP explained that the urgent task facing the working class was to fight for working class control of all measures necessary to protect public health. Without this, the prioritisation of profit over lives and livelihoods was inevitable. The capitalist-leopard was not suddenly going to change its spots.

From Zuma to Ramaphosa – Corruption continues

In his struggle for the presidency, Ramaphosa promoted himself – and was in turn promoted as such by his R1 billion big business sponsors – as the answer to the corruption of the Zuma-years. But now, the most high-profile case is in his inner-circle. Thandisizwe Diko, the husband of Ramaphosa’s own spokesperson, Khusela Diko, received two tenders worth R125 million to supply masks, sanitisers and other health equipment to the Gauteng provincial government.

His company was registered only eighteen months ago. He is the only director. It has no track record in medical supplies. In fact, it appears to have never done anything before. But it snapped-up the tenders within five-days of lockdown beginning. Both Dikos already have well-paid ‘day-jobs’ – Thandisizwe is the King of the amaBhaca on a state salary of R1.3 million per year!

Whether or not the approved tenders were actually paid is disputed. However, the overwhelming mood is that this is irrelevant. That it even went as far as it did tells us everything we need to know about the character of Ramaphosa’s administration. It seems likely that the Dikos set-up a shelf-company and waited for the right ‘opportunity ’to come along – that opportunity was death, illness and the hardship of the working class and poor under the pandemic and economic crisis.

On the other side of the dodgy deal was the Gauteng Health Department. The Sunday Independent (26 July) reports that Khusela Diko and Loyiso Lugayeni-Masuku, the wife of the Gauteng Health MEC, Bandile Masuku, are best friends, regularly socialising together with their husbands.

The Gauteng ANC was a key supporter in Ramaphosa’s climb to power. During the Zuma-years it tried to present itself as the ‘good ANC’, resisting corruption and committed to clean government and service-delivery. But relationships forged in its top structure, the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC), seem to have been crucial to the profiteering now taking place. Both Khusela Diko and Bandile Masuku are part of the PEC. Lugayeni-Masuku is the Johannesburg ANC’s deputy-secretary and part of the Johannesburg Mayoral Committee. According to the Sunday Independent, ANC sources are claiming that the tenders were part of a fund-raising project ahead of the Johannesburg ANC’s Regional Conference – where Lugayeni-Masuku is expected to contest for chairperson.

Political Crooks

So, to sum-up this scandal, money intended to protect health workers has been looted in order to buy votes to advance careers, not for public service, but to gain access to ever larger opportunities for self-enrichment. The Gauteng ANC is a pit-toilet, just like the rest of the party. This however, is just the most scandalising example of many. Forced by these revelations, ninety tenders with Gauteng’s Health Department alone, all related to personal-protective equipment (PPE), and worth R2.2 billion, are being investigated. The Sunday Times (26 July) exposed even more political connections, with several more of those winning tenders having served in important government and ANC positions in the past.

The MWP’s experiences in the EPWP campaign (see our homepage) have made us well aware what the Gauteng ANC is like. Our dealings with the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development have revealed an entitled and treacherous administration which has nothing but contempt for the working class and poor. Our members have encountered the corrupt Bosasa company operating in the department. There is also the missing bio-metric clocking-in system that was put-out to tender. With not one shred of shame, the department promoted this system as a way to stop ‘corruption’ amongst the workers!

It is almost certain that the picture in other provinces is little different to that in Gauteng. In both KZN and Eastern Cape Covid-related tender corruption in health departments is under investigation. Whilst the capitalist politicians and politically-connected business elites have been profiteering from the health crisis, 13,000 health workers have been infected with Covid-19 and more than 100 have died.

Whole System is Rotten

Under the cover of a ‘leave of absence’, Ramaphosa has been forced to suspend Khusela Diko. Cosatu is calling for Bandile Masuku’s resignation, and he and Diko have been summoned to appear before the Gauteng ANC’s Provincial Integrity Committee. Ramaphosa, in a face-saving move, has introduced regulations to strengthen the Zondo Commission’s investigation into Zuma-era corruption. However, this just draws attention to how toothless the commission was in the first place. Up until the new regulations its investigators had been forbidden from sharing information with law-enforcement agencies! What exactly was the point of it then?

The pandemic makes the allocation of vital resources an obvious life or death question. The media has created a new name for the most brazen pandemic profiteers: covidpreneurs. But although there is a new name, this is in no way a new phenomenon. It is more of the same. There is no real difference to the widespread plundering of public funds in ‘normal times’.

We can expect further tinkering as Ramaphosa tries to salvage his position. But it will make no fundamental difference. The ANC, the capitalist state that it controls and South African capitalism in general, is rotten to the core. There is nothing to save. Nor is this unique to SA. Pandemic corruption is a worldwide capitalist phenomenon with billions plundered by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Tory government and its British covidpreneurs.

The NGO Corruption Watch has released a report showing widespread corruption in the health sector in the eight years before the pandemic hit. It found that the most corrupt health departments were in Gauteng, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – the current epicentres of the pandemic. BusinessLive has reported how the Eastern Cape Health Department has had R29 billion of damages claims made against it – R10 billion more than its annual budget! In other words, the scale and severity of the unfolding health crisis was prepared in advance by the ANC government through years of corruption, looting and underfunding.

The very system of tenders in the public sector and SOEs, whether they are technically corrupt or not, involves a massive diversion of wealth away from the working class and poor. The profits of every company that does business with the state, from the biggest and most respectable, down to the latest fake shelf-company, is money that could have been spent on service delivery and workers’ wages. But tender-parasitism is an essential feature of twenty-first century South African capitalism. It must be abolished. Outsourcing must be ended. All contracts and tenders must be cancelled and workers and services brought in-house.

Nor is there a fundamental difference in the actions of big business. Where they can, they are profiteering from the health crisis too. JSE-listed pharmacy Dis-Chem has been caught raising prices on face masks. LevTrde International increased its prices for respiratory masks by 700%. Over 800 complaints of price-gouging have been referred to the Competition Commission since the State of Disaster was declared in mid-March, with 28 prosecutions, or settlements, so far. In the likely situation that public hospitals run-out of critical-care beds, the ANC government has agreed to pay a daily fee of R16,000 per bed to private hospitals to take its patients.

The scandals described in this article are only those that have managed to break-through capitalism’s thick skin of self-protection to come to public attention – its ‘business secrets’, toothless watchdogs, drawn-out commissions, and ‘captured’ law enforcement agencies.

Workers Party

The weakness of the trade union leaders’ response – especially the response of the federations, like Cosatu and Saftu, who have the potential to act as co-ordinating centres – means that we have only had small glimpses of what the working class could have achieved in turning the balance of forces if real leadership had been given.

The flip-flopping of the leadership of the Sadtu teachers’ union on the issue of school re-opening – opposed, then in favour, now opposed again – forced at least a partial change in policy from the government at each step. The leadership’s vacillation was a reflection of the mood of the teachers who were clearly determined to tell the government how the education sector would be run during the pandemic, and not be told. The Sadtu leadership, trying to protect its alliance with the ANC, clearly struggled to contain this mood, hence the U-turns.

The issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) returns again and again in the complaints, and (unfortunately isolated) protests of health workers. Our own members in the Gauteng health department, members of the Nupsaw union, working as Community Health Workers, report that one flimsy mask and apron has to be used for the entire week – nothing else is available. The leadership of the Nehawu union, which organises over 100,000 health workers, is also now being pushed toward action by its members on this life or death issue. Like Sadtu, the Nehawu leadership is attempting a balancing act between the mood of its members and its determination to protect the ANC government. Therefore they have announced national protests… but delayed them until August, or even September. They are of course hoping that ‘something will turn-up’ in the meantime, allowing them to call-off the protests.

The Taxi Associations are rightly condemned in the eyes of the working class for their recklessness during the pandemic. Their defiance of the regulations limiting inter-provincial travel and limiting the number of passengers was purely for their own profit and is a disaster for the efforts to contain the virus. Yet they forced not just a retreat, but an embarrassing cave-in, exposing the fragility of the ANC government’s control of society, and its impotence in the face of mass defiance. Imagine what would be possible if the strength of the organised working class was mobilised. What concessions would be possible, and what advances made! This makes the timidity of the trade union leaders’ response to the crisis all the more unforgivable.

A workers’ government would have nationalised all medical supply companies, pharmaceutical companies and private hospitals. Under democratic workers’ control, economic planning would have allowed the allocation of resources according to health priorities and not the greed of ANC politicians. This is to say nothing about the measures that a workers government could have taken to minimise the economic crisis – the nationalisation of job shedding big business, the nationalisation of the banks, the big supermarkets and food processing industry, price controls, and properly organised public feeding programmes, to name just a few measures that could have been taken.

But to achieve a workers’ government, we first need a mass workers’ party – a vehicle for the working class to fight for the conquest of state power. This task remains urgent. As the pandemic and crisis continues to unfold, grinding the working class into the dirt, the Saftu leadership must act. At the beginning of the year, well before the lockdown was imposed, a meeting of the Working Class Summit Steering Committee, forwarded a recommendation to the February Saftu NEC to endorse its agreement to call a public sector general strike on 30 April. The strike would demand the payment of the stolen public sector wage increase, threatened and now carried-out, the retention of 3,000 Gauteng EPWP workers, now dismissed, and permanent jobs and a minimum wage of R12,500 for Community Health Workers. To mobilise for the strike, rallies were to have been held on Sharpeville Day in every metro.

If the reports that the Saftu NEC was allowed to collapse without discussion of this vital question are correct, it is a disgrace. The working class is facing an orchestrated attack by the bosses, the government and international capitalist financial institutions. Yet the leadership of the organised working class has allowed Saftu to be paralysed by power struggles.

What the situation demands is the mobilisation of the working class to take the battle against the pandemic out of the incompetent and corrupt hands of this capitalist ANC government, to implement the resolution of the Working Class Summit, to establish a mass workers party on a socialist programme.  Saftu must urgently convene a virtual meeting of the WCS Steering Committee and invite working class formations from across the country to prepare for mass action and to implement the resolution. For a mass workers party on a socialist programme!