South Africans – long sick and tired of corruption – witnessed this week how President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his disbelief at information uncovered by the state capture commission. Having had enough of decision-makers downplaying the severity of corruption in the country, agriculturists have suggestions on how our leaders should be reacting on corruption, instead.
In his appearance before the Zondo commission on Wednesday, Ramaphosa said he had “no clue” about former Transnet CEO Brian Molefe’s Gupta connections when he recommended his appointment at Eskom.
Molefe is accused of having had close ties to the Gupta family and during his time at both state enterprises, sizeable contracts were awarded to entities linked to the Guptas and their associates. At Transnet alone, an estimated R40 billion in payments related to state capture were made during Molefe’s term.
Speaking at the commission, Ramaphosa said he had no knowledge about this and later stumbled over words to describe the severity of what Molefe is being accused of.
“It’s a … quite uhm …. I’m not allowed to use the word shocking anymore. They must teach me another word I can use rather than shocking. It’s quite … maybe frightening?” Ramaphosa asked.
How about ’embarrassing’?
Elton Greeve, an agripreneur and a former chief director of strategic land reform interventions in the department of rural development and land reform, says South Africans are beyond shocked.
Words that the president should start using are “embarrassed and disappointed”, he thinks.
“The president should rather say ‘I take collective responsibility for the mess’. South African citizens are [discouraged] at the level of denials, inaction and overall candidness by government about the seriousness of the problem.”
Greeve is convinced that when it comes to corruption in the agricultural sector, the problem lies predominately at government’s doorstep. This, he says, has an adverse effect on land reform and the general agricultural outlook as a whole.
“Investor confidence is pinned upon clean governance and the ability to stem corruption at all levels,” says Greeve.
Agriculture not safe from corruption
Leona Archary says that the president should perhaps show a deeper sense of regret instead of just being shocked. She is the former director-general of land reform and rural development, and current business manager of agriculture, for the Biden Group.
Her recommendation is that Ramaphosa should perhaps consider words like “astounded” and “appalled”.
“I think people don’t want to hear the word shocked anymore because the depth of corruption is so unbelievable. They further cannot understand why many knowingly allowed this to get to the point it did,” Archary says.
Furthermore, no sector has really escaped elements of corruption, Archary believes. This includes the agricultural sector.
“I believe that the very transformative agenda that was set for land and agriculture has been set back considerably by corruption.
This has impacted the participation of black farmers and entrepreneurs in the agricultural value chain of various commodities and will require a serious re-think of some of the models that were implemented if we want to see inclusive growth in the sector,” Archary reckons.
Archary does, however, understand the difficult position in which the president may have found himself as deputy president. She also appreciates the strides that have been made since he became president to dismantle state capture.
In her opinion, the president does recognise how deeply entrenched corruption is within the system.
Where to from here?
Both Archary and Greeve agree that it is possible for Mzansi to get back on the “right” track, but this will require a more strategic and collaborative partnership between government and the private sector.
According to Greeve, “It must be based on a mutual understanding to make South African agriculture flourish at all levels.”
Without this, he cautions, agriculture governance will be seen to be muddied and won’t boost investor confidence. Fortunately, the commercial agri sector has been able to flourish despite this.
Meanwhile Archary thinks a well-designed, systematic plan is the country’s only salvation.
“A plan that gets to the heart of the areas of corruption will help us get back on the right track. I agree with the president that this is something in which everyone has a role to play – public and private sector working together.”