In the last week South Africans have experienced a bombardment of scandalous e-mails relating to the influence of the Gupta family on the presidency and a range of areas of government. Some of these confirm what has already been known but others raise the bar for what represents a “scandal” to a level higher than many of us could have imagined.
It is not that scandalous, illegal and corrupt conduct and even evidence of state capture have been unknown until now. What may shock many of us is the amounts of money involved and character of this assault on the wellbeing of our country and insofar as it is primarily aimed at the fiscus, the pillage of resources needed to ensure the wellbeing of all our people.
Many of those who sponsored the rise of Jacob Zuma, did so despite there being strong evidence of his dishonesty and knowing that some of his backers were shady characters. Many of his erstwhile political supporters are now trying to put a distance between Zuma and themselves. While some may have had a level of tolerance for dishonest and irregular practice, as evidenced throughout the period of Zuma’s presidency, it has now reached a point where the very sovereignty and independence of the state is in question.
Evidence has been presented showing that the Gupta family have an inside track into what happens in government, where it concerns their interests. They obtain information prior to decisions being made and minutes of meetings where these decisions are taken. It appears that they receive CVs of future government employees before these individuals are appointed and that their recommendations or instructions are carried out. Of course, it does not always happen through the sending of a CV, for there is a paper trail indicating a range of other ways whereby what the Guptas want done is implemented, no matter what the regulations may stipulate.
In most cases these have been positions that have a crucial bearing on the economic development of the country, ministries that are charged with key elements of economic transformation or that determine who heads various parastatals. The very same ministries and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that have been earmarked to transform South Africa’a development, to spearhead the transformation of the country in order to address large scale inequalities have instead been used to cream off resources for the benefit of a few, in particular the Gupta family and their associates.
Malusi Gigaba, recently appointed Minister of Finance, has been shown in recent evidence to have played a key role in repositioning the SOEs to implement the re-directing of their core functions towards benefitting the Guptas. He continued to aid the Guptas when Minister of Home Affairs. Evidence shows, for example, that visa requirements for Indian nationals employed in Gupta enterprises appear to have been bypassed.
The e-mails corroborate earlier evidence of widespread deviation from the regulations applicable to procurement and other processes necessary to ensure the country’s energy needs and other essential elements of the South African state and economy. Much of this started with the replacing of board members in key SOEs in the period of tenure of Gigaba and has continued into the present.
It also explains that the partisan role of law enforcement agencies do not simply derive from incompetence or apparent lack of integrity of individuals like Berning Ntlemeza, dismissed head of the Hawks, Shaun Abrahams, head of the National Prosecuting Authority or Tom Moyane, Commissioner of the South African Revenue Services (SARS). They focused much of their attention on individuals like former Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan and other former SARS employees against whom an attempted prosecution collapsed. On the other hand there has been blindness in relation to certain categories of irregularity and criminality, perpetrated by those with links to the president or the Guptas.
This may be seen as part of the process of breaking resistance to the redesigned role of the state, comprising a series of key institutions that are to be captured. Some of these individuals may well be unaware of the broader picture, of which they are a part and simply doing what they understand as pleasing those who appointed them. But the manner of law enforcement is a crucial part of ensuring that the state is enabled to perform its “Guptarised” or “Zupta” functions.
There has previously been much talk of the hollowing out of institutions or their dysfunctionality or tendency to operate on an irregular basis. What the e-mails and the recently released research on state capture shows is that this is not simply the result of some individuals having an appetite that cannot be satisfied without corrupt activities or undermining the rules and regulations applicable in the entities with which they interact or within which they operate. (See Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is being stolen, May 2017, produced by a range of organisations and available, inter alia, on the website: pari.org.za)
They demonstrate that there have been conscious steps taken to bypass procedures and decision-making processes of state entities in order to ensure not only that huge profits are made but that key decisions are prepared outside the state and that these serve the interests of non-state entities, in particular the Gupta family.
In order to capture the state, in this case, it has not been through a conventional coup where an army general takes power but through ensuring that what needs to be done is effected through the appointment of individuals who act on behalf of and are ultimately answerable to no authority other than the Gupta family.
Constitutionally, these (Gupta-anointed) office bearers may have to appear in cabinet or in parliament and be subjected to grilling. But ultimately it is not these constitutionally charged bodies to which they believe themselves and are in fact accountable. It is not even a question of what they believe but the reality that it is the Guptas to whom they are accountable and who will decide whether or not they continue to hold office or are removed. In order to align ministries with the achievement of broader goals of capture, first Nhlanhla Nene and then Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas had to be removed. The appointment of Gigaba as Finance Minister was to place the Treasury in “safe hands” as far as the project is concerned.
It is astonishing that a state with one of the most advanced constitutions in the world can have many of its most crucial procedures bypassed in order to benefit a family. When that happens the state is no longer independent. It has not been conquered through military power but its leaders have ceded sovereign powers to decide what should be done with a substantial part of its economic resources to a family.
Evidence appears to show that the Zuma family amongst others have benefitted greatly from this relationship. Zuma may fear that this may not last. Consequently, in the tradition of many disreputable dictators there is an e-mail requesting the United Arab Emirates to allow him to treat Dubai as his second home. A palatial residence has been purchased for him. This is denied and the DA has challenged him to sue if it is not true.
Members of his family or at least one, Duduzane Zuma, own very expensive property and he has a residence permit in Dubai. Duduzane Zuma emerges as an important go between for the Guptas in facilitating meetings and other processes that ensure that they have the president and government in general do what they require. For this he has been amply rewarded.
Very many South Africans are outraged and have been left reeling by the sheer audacity of what has been revealed. Many want to reclaim back their country. How is this to be achieved? When actions so outrageous have been publicly revealed one would expect a government to fall or a leader to resign. Regrettably those are not traditions that have been followed by the ANC-led government, especially under Zuma where many, despite demonstrating ignominious conduct, continue to hold office.
The ANC itself while fearing loss of power in 2019 as a result of Zuma’s actions is unable to develop the will to remove him. It is important that, ANC members who oppose state capture, the various opposition parties and forces in civil society should find a way of coordinating their actions and demands. A “unifying vision” needs to be developed in order to provide a basis for creating the force that will oust Zuma. It should preferably also create the framework for a genuine “national dialogue”, that is, one that does not see the problems of our democracy as settled with the removal of Zuma, but prepares for confronting all the problems of renewal. These go beyond the formal political arena and also find expression in areas including land questions, violence especially against women and other vulnerable people, and addressing broader questions of inequality, unemployment and ways of responding to problems of education at all levels.
Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. Currently he is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison has recently been reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC by Jacana Media. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner