South Africa’s new Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane will have a baptism of fire as she will have to release the reports of a number of explosive investigations early in her term of office. This includes the investigations into alleged corruption by Eastern Cape municipalities relating to Nelson Mandela’s funeral and the Tshwane smart meter contract. But no report will be as highly anticipated as the investigation into the alleged capture of the state by the Gupta family. With the ANC voting against a parliamentary probe into allegations of state capture on Thursday, the Office of the Public Protector remains the only avenue for South Africa to know the truth about the controversial family’s involvement in state affairs. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
It is no secret that many people in the ANC are concerned about the Guptas’ grip on some of their leaders as well as people in government and state-owned companies. Those concerns were certainly not evident in the National Assembly on Thursday during a debate on a motion by the Democratic Alliance (DA) for a parliamentary enquiry into state capture. Granted, this was an opposition motion and therefore it could not be expected that the ANC would simply go along with it.
Answering questions in the House the day before, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan emphasised the need for all parties to act in the “national interest” for the country to traverse its difficulties. If ever there was something in the national interest it is eliminating the cause of dangerous political decisions that place the country in jeopardy. While the ANC might still be in denial about the reasons President Jacob Zuma fired former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, the conduct of Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who made a false claim about a Cabinet resolution, is certainly a reminder of the improper influence the Guptas have on a member of Cabinet.
There are many allegations about the interference of the Guptas in the state but none are as barefaced as Zwane’s attempt to threaten South Africa’s banks with a judicial probe over their closure of the family’s business accounts. With other brazen acts, like the Guptas’ offer of the finance minister position to Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas and their instructions to former government communications head Themba Maseko to direct advertising their way, the evidence of the family’s involvement has to be produced.
In Zwane’s case, the evidence is in full view of the public and confirmed by the Presidency. Zwane acted on behalf of the Guptas to fabricate a Cabinet resolution. The capture of a member of the executive does not get any clearer than that.
Considering that the ANC has condemned Zwane’s actions and called on President Jacob Zuma to take action against him, they had the opportunity to take the high road on the issue of state capture. With Gupta allies in the ANC national executive committee killing off the internal probe by secretary general Gwede Mantashe, the establishment of a parliamentary ad hoc committee would have given the organisation the opportunity to redeem itself. Jonas, Maseko and many others who claim to have knowledge about the Guptas would have had the opportunity to come forward. The ad hoc committee would also have been able to summon the Gupta brothers to explain their dealings with government leaders and state institutions.
But perhaps the ANC could not allow such an open probe because they are worried about what might be revealed and who might be implicated. So ANC MPs had to endure blistering attacks from the opposition, without any real defence.
DA MP David Maynier, who sponsored the motion, said the Zwane fiasco was a reminder that state capture remained a clear-and-present danger to democratic South Africa.
“We all now know that the Minister is a hired gun and he was contracted by the Guptas to carry out a political hit on the financial sector, National Treasury and the South African Reserve Bank,” Maynier said.
But it was DA leader Mmusi Maimane who went for the jugular – and drew blood.
“I think it is important to acknowledge that President Zuma did not invent state capture. He just perfected it… We no longer have a president; we have a puppet.”
Listing ways the Guptas allegedly dictate to Zuma, Maimane said:
“When the Guptas say ‘fire Nene’, number one says ‘He’ll be gone by the end of the week’. When the Guptas say ‘get Gordhan’, number one says ‘I’ll get the Hawks on it right away’. When the Guptas say ‘we want a coal mine’, number one says ‘I’ll go one better. I’ll give you your own minister of mineral resources’.”
“Jacob Zuma is so deep in the Guptas’ pockets I’m surprised those pockets haven’t been declared a national key point,” Maimane said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Fana Mokoena said Zwane, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen and premiers Ace Magashule and Supra Mahumapelo all needed to be investigated for their role in the state being captured. He said it was a sad day that Parliament had to debate one family. A major concern about state capture was that it took away money from education and housing, Mokoena said.
Freedom Front Plus MP Corné Mulder said the allegations of state capture, whether true or not, had created a perception that the ANC condoned corruption. He asked the ANC why it would oppose the ad hoc committee probe. “Please wake up and do the right thing once.”
The ANC’s responses did not mention any of the allegations about the Guptas or acknowledge the concerns in society about the family’s influence. ANC MP Joanmarie Fubbs delved into the concept of corporate capture of the state and lectured the House about the adverse effect of the private sector on the legitimacy of the state. Her colleague Priscilla Mantashe said the ANC was not pro-corruption but believed that Parliament did not need to get involved in an investigation into state capture as there were other institutions that could do so.
The third ANC speaker, Zet Luzipho, who is also a South African Communist Party leader, waded into the ideological theory behind state capture. “Does the ANC have state power or is it a party in power?” he asked, before saying those who called for the investigation were “blood-thirsty vampires”.
Oddly, the ANC did not select any member of the executive to speak in the debate – another sign that it wanted to play down the issue. The House eventually voted on the motion, which was defeated by 169 to 103 votes, with one abstention.
Maynier said in a statement after the vote that the ANC had “closed ranks in a desperate effort to protect President Jacob Zuma, and the Gupta family, from any investigation by Parliament”.
“Even Jeremy Cronin, who is opposed to state capture, voted against the motion, rather like a member of the Communist Party, condemned to the Gulag, singing songs in support of Stalin.”
The ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu’s office said Parliament was neither an investigative agency nor professionally equipped to conduct criminal probes:
“Such allegations are of serious nature and should not be used for mere grandstanding in Parliament, but should instead be reported to competent authorities such as the police or relevant chapter nine institutions for investigation.”
But the ANC once again surrendered the moral high in order to protect those who continue to destroy the organisation and abuse the state. It seems that the hard lessons from the poor handling of the Nkandla matter has not resulted in the ANC caucus taking action to redeem itself.
But this is hardly the end of the matter. State capture by the Gupta family is under investigation by the Office of the Public Protector. Because of the scope of the investigation, requested by the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church, it is unlikely that the full report will be completed by the time Thuli Madonsela leaves office on 14 October. However, it is possible that she might release a preliminary report.
It will be up to her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, to report to South Africa about whether the Guptas have captured the state or are the victims of multiple, concocted allegations, unfairly targeting them and their political friends. It is a truth that must be revealed and hopefully, in the process of determining it, Mkhwebane will not face the kind of obstacles and bullying that Madonsela did.
The state capture probe will also be a major test for Mkhwebane to see if she will be able to handle such an explosive issue without fear or favour. The credibility of the investigation will also signal whether the Office of the Public Protector remains an institution South Africa can trust or if it too will become infested and captured. DM
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle