There are several aspects to the current “state capture” debate.
To start with, there is nothing new about state capture. It has always been the ANC's openly proclaimed, and profoundly unconstitutional, policy to capture the state to promote its own political and ideological interests. According to its Strategy & Tactics documents, a key task of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) after 1994 was
“to strengthen the hold of the democratic movement (i.e. the ANC) over state power, and to transform the state machinery to serve the cause of social transformation (i.e. the NDR): The levers of state power include the legislatures, the executives, the public service, the security forces, the judiciary, parastatals, the public broadcaster, and so on.”
The ANC has diligently pursued this goal and has succeeded in seizing virtually all of the levers of state power with the exception of the Judiciary, the Office of the Public Protector and, perhaps, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
All the ANC's factions support this process. What now alarms some of them is that important elements of the state have been captured by President Zuma and those who surround him for the promotion of their own personal financial and political objectives - and not those of the ANC.
President Zuma has secured effective control of the security establishment and key institutions - including the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks and the Police’s IPID. However, his attempt last December to seize control of the Finance Ministry proved a bridge too far.
Non-Zuma factions are, understandably, alarmed by these developments. Many stalwarts regard them as a serious threat to the ethos of the ANC and as harbingers of the kind of Big Man politics that has blighted much of the rest of Africa. They are particularly concerned about President Zuma's control of the security apparatus. They fear that their phones are being tapped and that the price of continuing membership of the ANC ruling elite - with all its attendant perks - will be their silent acquiescence.
This gives rise to the third area of contestation - and to Mr Ramaphosa’s voluble alarm - not about state capture - but about the capture of the ANC itself. Everyone remembers Polokwane in December 2007, when the SACP, COSATU and the ANC Youth League captured the ANC from the Mbeki-ites on behalf of Jacob Zuma.
Since then, the SACP has enjoyed enormous and disproportionate influence in the formulation of economic policy and has arrogated to itself the vanguard role in the direction of the NDR. It has made no secret of its contempt for ‘comprador’ elements in the ANC who have used their political affiliations to enrich themselves. This unsurprisingly has elicited a strong reaction from the Zuma faction - and in particular - from the so-called “Premier League”. Now, the SACP - with which Mr Ramaphosa is tactically aligned - faces the prospect of once again being cast into to the political wilderness - as had happened between 1996 and 2007 under the leadership of President Mbeki.
This brings us to another terrain that the ANC would like capture: the economy.
All the ANC factions are jockeying for position in the run-up to the ANC’s National Conference at the end of 2017 because it will determine the future of the ANC - and of the state - for the subsequent five years. Everywhere, contenders are maneuvering to secure the support of delegates - and in so doing some are playing the race card.
This is what Mr Ramophosa did last week, when he told black businessmen that “For far too long this economy has been owned and controlled by white people. That must come to end... Those who don’t like this idea (i.e. whites) - tough for you.”
Mr Ramaphosa is wrong about who owns and controls the economy: black South Africans control economic and fiscal policy; they control the state's 35% share of the economy; they own the 10% represented by the informal sector, and according to the JSE they own a higher percentage of the stock market than whites. Whites still control and own a disproportionate - but diminishing - share; but this should not be surprising when one considers that they built up many of the companies involved and that they represent a disproportionate share of the entrepreneurial and management skills in the 45+ manager/owner age group.
Mr Ramaphosa will find that capturing the economy is a little more difficult than capturing the state. Unlike the state, businesses have to produce value - or go bankrupt. This means that they must be run by the most competent people available, regardless of their race. The ANC should have learned this from its gross mismanagement of the parastatals - a significant part of the economy that it has already captured.
None of this ‘capture’ business is reconcilable with the Constitution.
The Constitution requires state institutions that are independent of improper political influence from any quarter - and that serve the people of South Africa equally, regardless of their political affiliation or race.
It also states that “no-one may be deprived of property, except in terms of a law of general application and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property”.
As Deputy President Ramaphosa should know, policies based on racial mobilisation - with the clear objective or harming the legitimate interests of any South Africans on the basis of their race - are unacceptable and unconstitutional. They would also erode any prospect of national unity and would lead to the destruction of economy and of our constitutional state.
Amidst the ensuing rubble there would be very little left for anyone to capture.
By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation