When OUTA was formed ten years ago, many believed we would not succeed in forcing government to rethink their e-toll decision. While the powers that be still need to make a final decision to turn the system off, e-tolling in Gauteng is defunct and the State is unable to enforce its lucrative money-making scheme. This has indeed been a big win for citizens and a lesson for Government.
In 2016, when OUTA decided to broaden its mandate and tackle Government’s abuse of power, irrational policies, and corrupt use of taxes, once again many believed we might be pushing the envelope with our ambitious plans. Yet the OUTA journey has been an example of the power and ability of ordinary citizens to drive accountability and bring about necessary change.
For an overview of OUTA’s journey over the last decade, here is a podcast discussion that I had with Alec Hogg of BizNews.
But enough of OUTA’s past 10 years, and back to the here and now, as the work of civil society in the present time impacts on society’s future.
The past few weeks have shown us that the wheels of justice continue to turn in the right direction, albeit slowly, with cases involving quite a few former political leaders who were previously considered untouchable. Bathabile Dlamini has been sentenced for perjury (although her sentence should have been much harsher) and former state security minister Bongani Bongo's trial date for fraud and corruption is finally set. Furthermore, Jacob Zuma and his corruption crony Ace Magashule have both run out of Stalingrad runway, and all barriers have eventually been removed for their respective trials to get under way. At the end of March, the Office of the Solicitor-General also announced they will be going after Jacob Zuma for R18.2 million "plus interest" he owes the state for legal defence costs.
In what is widely seen to be a good move to clean up the SAPS, President Ramaphosa also appointed a new SAPS commissioner, Lt. Gen. Fannie Masemola. The Zondo Commission’s final reports on state capture are due this month, and as seen in the recommendations in the first, very comprehensive reports, this should add excellent fuel to the engine-rooms of accountability that are starting to be fired up, albeit very late in the day.
Other positive developments include President Ramaphosa’s appointment of Deputy Chief Justice Zondo as the country’s new chief justice. The President also issued a notice of suspension to the Public Protector, adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and Parliament has appointed two respected attorneys as evidence leaders for the impeachment inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office, a quest OUTA has been involved in since 2019. (Read about this elsewhere in this newsletter).
Ex-Ethekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, another Zuma favourite implicated in massive corruption, was told that she will have to stand trial in July on corruption charges, and the governing party itself faces the ire of SARS over an unpaid tax bill of R102 million.
While all of this is good news for South African’s who are eager to see crooked politicians held to account and justice restored, the fight to save South Africa is far from over. The impact and pressure brought about by all these developments will most certainly play out in the run up to the ANC’s elective conference in December. The cabal negatively impacted by many of the actions and reforms, will no doubt come out with guns blazing in their fight to win back the soul of the ANC. As we have seen, even our Constitution and courts are attacked by politicians who care little for our fragile constitutional democracy. The factional battle within the ruling party is a big concern for civil society. It requires our collective heightened vigilance to ensure the affairs of the State do not get caught up in the ANC’s ruthless internal war.
On the economic front, we have seen positive changes in Government’s approach to address the high petrol prices heaped on the country over the past decade or two. In his annual budget speech in February, the Minister of Finance announced that that there will be no increases to the fuel levy and the road accident fund levy. A few days ago, Minister Godongwana also announced an unprecedented temporary petrol price relief by reducing the fuel levy by R1.50 per litre. This helps to ease the burden of high petrol price increases driven by the impact of the Ukraine war on international oil prices. In addition, Government also announced that a review of the petrol price, a complex formula made up of fourteen components – some very outdated – is underway.
OUTA’s recent pressure on the Department of Transport to address the chaos with the driver’s licence renewal system has seen some shift in their approach to address the mess that lies within. We are encouraged by the fact that, while our relationship with the minister is a rather adversarial one, Fikile Mbalula has taken time out to engage with the OUTA team and seek input on our research to find solutions to this ongoing crisis. We reflect more on this meeting here.
OUTA welcomes Minister’s Mbalula’s decision to extend the deadline for renewals until 15 April 2022, and to investigate extending the driver’s licence card validity to 10 years, as OUTA has been suggesting since 2020.
Despite President Ramaphosa’s undertaking during this year’s SONA that government will reach out and engage more meaningfully with civil society to find solutions to our many challenges as a nation, not enough of this conduct is on display. It seems there is a serious disconnect from what is being said and what is being practiced by our country’s elected leaders.
In this month’s OUTA newsletter, you can also read about OUTA’s third Parliamentary Oversight Report, wherein we reflect on Parliament’s continued failure to hold the executive to account. We also share OUTA’s view on changing the electoral system, and the rushed SENTECH tender for digital migration that our investigators exposed. We also report back on what we did with regards to transparency at Koeberg and government’s electricity proposals.
As always, thank you for your valued report. Without you, we don’t exist.
Wayne and the team