The defence force has increasingly defied political or civilian oversight. They have taken the law into their own hands, captured public resources and taken control of large parts of the country.
SA is rapidly going down the way of Mexico, where the criminal underworld, cartels and gangs have terrifying power and have brazenly created no-go zones, defied laws and violently attacked police forces without being brought to book.
These criminals have eroded the authority of the Mexican government and taken control of large territories and public resources. Out-of-control cartels and syndicates, including taxi associations and house hijackers, gangs that demand protection money from restaurants and township gangs, have taken control of large parts of the country.”Community” development cartels that demand money from businesses for industrial projects to continue unmolested have mushroomed. All these underworld cartels appear to be untouchable. More recently, political cartels —mostly from within the ANC —have sprung up in SA.
Police minister Bheki Cele and his top brass asking “permission ”from so-called Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) “veterans ”to enter Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla compound illustrate the point.MK veterans fall into the category of lawless political cartels.The threats by these “veterans ”, who look like they have only recently completed high school, to take on the police in order to “protect ”Zuma from arrest — and getting away with it —show that the state has lost control over large numbers of groups, cartels and areas. Not responding firmly erodes the authority, legitimacy and reach of the state.
Some of SA’s state agencies are also run by small groups of powerful ANC comrades, operating outside the law, accountable to no-one, and making these agencies no-go zones for democratic oversight. Late last year, the defence force procured its own Covid-19 vaccine, the drug Heberon from Cuba.
It was done without the authority of the Treasury and without consultation with the health department. The drug is not registered in SA. Just before Christmas, the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority sent the Hawks to confiscate the illegal drug at a depot in Pretoria.
The military police blocked the Hawks, who backed off. There was not even a murmur from President Cyril Ramaphosa. No defence force generals have been disciplined, fired or demoted for this defiance of the democratic state they are meant to serve.
The defence force has increasingly defied political or civilian oversight, becoming a law unto itself, and with senior officers becoming involved in ANC factional politics. In October last year, generals called for an assembly of soldiers to discuss the lack of leadership in the ANC.
SA’s intelligence services under Zuma were run like an underworld cartel within the state, accountable to him.
At the hearings into state capture, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, it was alleged that Zuma wasted more than R10bn from the State Security Agency budget to create a parallel private intelligence agency, without proper financial accounting, democratic oversight or accountability. Another R9bn in fixed agency assets could not be accounted for.The public money from the agency was used to secure property, assets and holidays for agents. It was alleged that Zuma was regularly given cash by the agency.
The agency was also used in the factional battles of the ANC and used to sideline Zuma’s political rivals in the ANC. SA is now reaching its Mexico moment. The country is on the verge of a terrifying plunge into full-scale, Mexico-like lawlessness, chaos and social breakdown, with political, security and criminal cartels running large parts of the government, communities and civil society. To stop the Mexicanisation, these cartels must be broken and their members prosecuted.
This article was originally published as an opinion piece in the Sunday Times.