The evidence of grand corruption that is emerging from the leaked e-mails that has become known as the “Gupta leaks” have confirmed years of suspicion. The ANC has been dragged so deep into the mud that it is now facing a crisis of legitimacy before a scandalised nation. The mind-boggling amounts of money skimmed off and syphoned from government coffers have left many numbed, politically disorientated and unable to quite grasp the significance of this kind of wholesale looting and the real effect it has on the lives of ordinary people. The almost daily revelations pose the risk of corruption fatigue and despondency setting in. A vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, scheduled for 8 August 2107, will probably be the next rallying point.
But there are none so blind as those who do not want to see. The so-called left of the party have been trying to defend President Jacob Zuma for over a decade, starting with the conviction of his close associate Schabir Shaik for corruption and fraud after soliciting bribes from the French arms company Thomson-CSF. In May this year, there were new allegations that Jacob Zuma had accepted a R500 000-a-year bribe from the arms firm – the same company that, back in the apartheid day, secretly propped up PW Botha’s regime with cactus missiles and other weaponry. There has been the Nkandla scandal, the Gupta cesspool, which has been long in coming, and then there still is the Russian nuclear deal.
I recall Jacob Zuma speaking at the Cape Town Press Club after he had been fired as deputy-president by Thabo Mbeki. Asked how he managed to afford his private security detail, his limousine entourage and his campaign for the presidency now that he had no income, he replied that his children were very successful and looked after him.
Zuma’s son, Duduzane, has been continuously benefitting from Gupta-owned companies and government largesse.
As the evidence mounts and his family is ever more deeply implicated, the denial of any knowledge of corruption by Jacob Zuma is simply implausible. Zuma’s son, Duduzane, has continuously been benefitting from Gupta-owned companies and government largesse. In 2015, President Zuma was quoted as telling a forum of business leaders, “I always say to business people …. If you don’t invest in the ANC, your business is in danger.”
South Africa has a free press – for now…
In some ways, South Africa is unique. Unlike certain Eastern European countries and the former Soviet states, where rent-seeking elites work hand in glove with the executive to loot the country (this is where the World Bank first coined the phrase “state capture” in the early 2000s), South Africa has a free press, civil liberties and secure property rights – for the time being, at least.
This has meant that the Guptas and their political allies have had to employ a different set of dirty tricks. Their initial delaying tactic was to question the authenticity of the leaked e-mails. However, to claim that as many as 200 000e-mails are some elaborate concoction is as ridiculous as believing in the tooth fairy. Besides, various correspondents in the e-mails, including senior members of the ANC, have subsequently confirmed their authenticity.
In addition to the e-mails, evidence of state capture can be found in the State of Capture Report by the previous Public Protector, a report assembled by the Public Affairs Research Institute and another by the South African Council of Churches.
The next defence was to claim that the e-mail leak was the work of foreign interests, whose aim is to affect regime change. Even if this were true, it does not change the veracity of the leaks or the fact that Zuma ought to step down, at the very least, because all this has been happening on his watch.
The next move on the part of the ANC was to make threats. The Minister of Defence said the matter should be viewed and dealt with as an issue of cyber security. This is a hint that whistle-blowers should watch out, not the parties tainted with corruption. The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation said it would probe the leaks, but – and this is rather sinister – would not say if this meant that it was inquiring into their content or trying to establish who had hacked the Guptas’ computers.
What followed next was the Guptas’ media companies, the television channel ANN7 and the newspaper The New Age, giving oxygen to Zuma’s lackeys by running a propaganda campaign featuring puppet “experts” as studio guests. They did their best to muddy the waters and shift the discourse away from state capture. The Gupta family’s spin-doctors, the dirty-tricks PR company Bell Pottinger of London, have been widely credited with coming up with the counter-narrative of “white monopoly capital” to divert attention from their clients’ shady deals. After losing two major clients over this debacle, the company has dropped the account.
Media misinformation and smear campaigns
There have also been paid-for Twitter accounts and other social media disinformation and smear campaigns. Populist rhetoric around “radical economic transformation” is being used to mask Zuma’s system of patronage. From the e-mails, we know that Gupta employees write scripts for and coach ANC officials and members of the ANC Youth League.
From the leaked e-mails, we know that Gupta employees write scripts for and coach ANC officials and members of the ANC Youth League.
In addition, journalists have been threatened and intimidated and thugs have been deployed to incite racial hatred. The Black First Land First gang, the ANC Youth League, and a fake Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran group have all been found to be part of this strategy.
As the ANC Policy Conference 2017 got under way, in what seems too bizarre to be co-incidence, there were fires at the finance office of the premier of Gauteng province and at the office of the premier of the Eastern Cape province. Both of these provincial leaders are known to be against Zuma. Documents in a procurement inquiry went up in the smoke. In another recent break-in, the office of the Chief Justice has also been broken into and computers stolen.
Populist rhetoric around “radical economic transformation” is being used to mask Zuma’s system of patronage.
How to deal with the Zuptas?
It remains to be seen what can be done about state capture. A criminal investigation is clearly the correct response, but the presidency has succeeded in subordinating the intelligence services and the Public Protector’s office to its factional agenda. Zuma has also decapitated the National Prosecuting Authority, the police and the Hawks investigative bureau.
The country’s four biggest banks were the first to take concrete action, closing the Guptas’ bank accounts for suspicious transactions and possible money-laundering. The Financial Intelligence Centre and the South African Reserve Bank began a probe.
The new Public Protector wasted no time making absurd recommendations aimed at torpedoing the SA Reserve Bank.
The new Public Protector wasted no time after getting into office to start threatening ABSA bank with apartheid scandals and making absurd recommendations aimed at torpedoing the Reserve Bank. Meanwhile, the previous Public Protector’s report into state capture is being thwarted by Zuma applying to have it reviewed.
The Treasury, which under the previous Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, and his deputy, threatened to stop the rot, and the South African tax authority, which also has the power and resources to investigate, have now both been captured.
Throughout the unfolding saga, the ANC has been utterly toothless and paralysed. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe is only concerned with preventing the party from splitting. He had no such qualms when former president Thabo Mbeki was booted out. Ironically, his fixation with keeping the party together at all costs could be the ANC’s ultimate undoing.
In June, Julius Malema of the EFF laid criminal charges with the police against Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family. Malema seems to be betting on Gigaba being one of the dirtiest and therefore loosest bricks in the wall and cracking first.
A judicial commission of inquiry has also been proposed, but Zuma has thwarted these before – in the case of the arms deal scandal. If a judicial commission of inquiry is set up, its findings would most likely be a whitewash, given that the president himself appoints the judge and determines the terms of reference of such an inquiry. The only way around this will be if Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, as acting president, appointed the commission of inquiry.
As for parliament, the ANC has launched a laughable initiative: It has tasked four committees to look into state capture. A parliamentary ad hoc committee is what is needed, but, again, Zuma has been here before – and survived.