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HomeReviewUncovering state capture

Uncovering state capture

Enemy of the People: How Jacob Zuma stole South Africa and how the people fought back, by Adriaan Basson & Pieter Du Toit; Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2017; Pb, xxi+338pp; ISBN 978-1-86842-8182.

The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma Out of Power and Out of Prison, by Jacques Pauw; Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2017; Pb, 352pp; ISBN 978-0-624-08303-0.

In 1991, the author of one of these books, Jacques Pauw, wrote a dramatic account of apartheid’s death squads titled In the Heart of the Whore. Though it would be inappropriate (and confusing to readers) to reuse such a title, one might well see an affinity between the world’s oldest profession and many of the characters who feature in pieces from Basson, Du Toit and Pauw. Then again, it might be unfair to prostitutes who – unlike these persons – actually deliver a service, no matter how morally controversial these services may be.

Between them and in a manner that is surprisingly complementary, these books document the process of state capture in South Africa, spearheaded by President Jacob Zuma and his local and international cronies, backed up by a dominant faction in the ruling African National Congress and institutions of state that now no longer serve the public but a tiny, greedy elite. They complement one another in their focus: Basson and Du Toit give us a big picture of a state moving from clean, democrat governance to what is in effect kleptocracy, while Pauw takes us into the secret and dirty world of keeping a corrupted regime in power, a world where lawyers, legislators, business and organised crime have worked together to keep a president in office and out of jail.

These books share a common narrative. Antecedent to the present crisis, the infamous Arms Deal looms as a precursor to what has transpired. That it happened at all was disturbing. That it was so badly mishandled by the State, with few serious consequences for politicians caught in corruption, should have been a warning to us all; a warning of things to come.

The rise of Jacob Zuma was another warning. A politician with a problematic track record – whose (to put it mildly) messy personal financial situation led him into what a court ruled was at the very least a compromising relationship with ANC stalwart and businessmen convicted for corruption, Schabir Shaik – Zuma’s rise to power left many questions unanswered. His rape trial acquittal, under circumstances that suggest to our authors a level of police bungling that may not have simply been incompetence, should have been a further warning. Yet, as a result of the aloof and increasingly authoritarian (though fundamentally competent) presidency of Thabo Mbeki, the ANC voted in Zuma as party president in 2007. Many later regretted it, but it was too late. In 2007 it seemed a good idea: despite his chaotic finances and association with Shaik, despite the rape trial (which revealed at very least a streak of male chauvinism and sexual irresponsibility), Zuma was precisely what Mbeki was not: personable, even warm, a ‘man of the people’.

Zuma’s accession to the national presidency in 2009 was assured. Having already taken control of the leadership of the ANC, following due process of Parliament and the ANC’s internal constitution, he was then able to choose his cabinet and implement policy. He and his associates at Luthuli House could also ultimately determine, following the party list system, which comrades would serve in parliament. He promised for the poor, who had voted overwhelmingly for him, a better life and more pro-poor policies. He soon however, in practice, followed what radical political economist Patrick Bond has characterised as ANC politics – he ‘talked left’ but ‘walked right’. He also, our authors tell us, became even more corrupt.

A succession of scandals have marked Zuma’s presidency, ably and comprehensively documented in both these books. There is the scandal of state funds being used to do renovations to the Zuma family home at Nkandla. Going massively over budget, Zuma was finally forced to ‘pay back the money’ – but a Zuma-dominated parliament determined that only a fragment of the cost be repaid.

There have been accounts of shady deals being done with Russian energy, Chinese, Indian, Swiss and Belgian industries, where Zuma and his family and his close associates have benefitted financially. Transparency has been subverted by loyal appatchniks who have blocked investigation into such deals.

Furthermore, there has been the problematically close relationship with the Gupta family – Indian-born, resident in Dubai and South Africa, with South African citizenships awarded under dubious circumstances.  Apart from overlapping business interests and less-than-transparent deals between the Guptas and the Zuma family, this relationship led to alleged violations of law and diplomatic protocol. The Guptas got ‘diplomatic’ type treatment, being allowed to land at a military airbase when they attended a family wedding. This was illegal and technically a security breach of an institution that was a National Key Point. Subsequent revelations have included claims by a number of ANC MPs that the Guptas were advising Zuma on who he appointed to public office – including cabinet ministers. One or two have even claimed to have been offered posts by the Guptas themselves, on behalf of the president.

The rot goes even deeper. Pauw recounts how organised crime has penetrated the Zuma elite: in return for directorships on front companies and ‘tax-free’ pay-outs, some of the elite have been in compromising relationships with tobacco smugglers, some even with known crime bosses. The policing of organised crime has been blocked by Zuma appointees in the police and intelligence services. And most recently the two most effective organs of state – the Treasury and South African Revenue Service (SARS) – have been similarly neutered by a process of lies, propaganda and replacement of honest officials with members of Zuma’s clique.

We have become, or are becoming, a mafia state, Pauw concludes. He concurs with those opposing the process that the law has been subverted. The institutions that allegedly are to protect citizens from crime – the police, the Hawks, the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the State Security Agency – have also been captured.

On a more positive note, both books document resistance to state capture. Basson and Du Toit document the efforts, through the higher courts (still apparently independent, though one might wonder for how long) and public protest, of a grand and often profoundly mixed informal coalition of concerned and patriotic citizens, to take back South Africa from organised plunder. They look at the efforts of opposition parties (including an unlikely and no doubt temporary ‘alliance’ of the centre-right Democratic Alliance and the populist left Economic Freedom Fighters), civil society organisations (including such as mixture as the Helen Suzman Foundation, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Section 27 and OUTA) and grassroots movements to end state capture. They also note (as does Pauw) that there remain a number of ANC stalwarts who oppose state capture courageously, notably Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas and Nhlanhla Nene – all ministers of finance, all dismissed by Zuma for opposing him. Others include the former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela. And, last but certainly not least, the great ANC struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada who stood in life for public integrity and in death gave this ragtag opposition a chance to come together to call on Zuma to quit – and to prick the consciences of ANC comrades still sitting on the fence.

To them we must add the anonymous sources Jacques Pauw contacted as informants for his book within the captured state institutions. They in particular not only confirmed what we thought, but also pointed to the secret network that keeps Zuma and his cronies in power, and confirmed how this network includes – as Basson and Du Toit document – an extensive campaign of propaganda, smears and collaboration that has so far sent one international public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, into economic rescue and has shaken the reputation of global consultancy, KPMG.

One day when state capture has been reversed (one hopes), these heroes of democracy will get the recognition and thanks they are due.

What then are we to make of these books? I shall not even try to decide which is the better book. They are both important, comprehensive and well-written works that are essential reading in these difficult times. As I noted earlier, they complement each other. Basson and Du Toit set state capture against a broader political canvas. Pauw takes into the murky underworld beneath, showing us the depth of the corruption and the lengths to which the ‘keepers’ will go to protect Zuma, his crowd and those who keep them in the conditions to which they’ve become accustomed and see themselves entitled. No concerned South African who wants to stay informed should stint by only buying one or other of the books.

They should buy both, read them, and consider how they might act. SA.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.