In the classical texts, tyranny, as opposed to despotism, refers to a form of government that breaks its own rules. This is a useful starting point for discussing political developments in South Africa in the past ten years and the civil society response to it. The ANC government under Jacob Zuma became more and more tyrannical as it set itself up against the Constitution and the rule of law in an effort to capture the state.
In moves reminiscent of events in the 1980s, independent journalists, social movements, trade unions, legal aid centres, NGOs, the churches and some academics have helped mobilise South African society against state capture. A new and varied movement has arisen, bringing together awkward partnerships between ideologically disparate groups and people.
What they have nonetheless shared is a broad support for the Constitution, for democracy and for a modern, professional administration, and they are all, broadly speaking, social democratic in orientation.
The publication of the Betrayal of the Promise report, on which this book is based, constituted a key moment, helping to provide this movement with a narrative and concepts for expressing a systemic perspective on state capture that helped its readers to, in the words of former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, ‘join the dots’.
The particular instance of so-called ‘state capture’ that we discuss in this book is part of a familiar and recurring pattern in the history of state formation in South Africa. It is, in fact, impossible to understand the evolution of South African politics and statecraft without understanding the deeper dynamics of what we refer to today as state capture. There is a clear and direct line of sight from the origins of the state in the Cape Colony, when it was ‘captured’ by the Dutch East India Company, through to the era of Cecil Rhodes and ‘Milner’s Kindergarten’ – the name popularly given to the young British civil servants
who served under High Commissioner Alfred, Lord Milner – in post-Boer War South Africa.
The world that the first generations of mining magnates, the so-called Randlords, built on the Witwatersrand provided the foundation for the election victory of the National Party in 1948. The post-1948 state actively supported the build-up of Afrikaner capital in a process which effectively captured the state for decades, with the Electricity Supply Commission (Escom, now renamed Eskom) and the South African Railways (now renamed Transnet) at the very centre of that political project.
The corporate capture of the apartheid war- and sanctions-busting machine has been well documented, with arms manufacturer Armscor (renamed Denel after 1994) at its centre. Also well documented is the powerful role played by corporate South Africa during the transition, to ensure that a democratic state
could do little to change the basic structure of the economy. This was a form of capture in that powerful elite interests subverted the broad vision of transformation that inspired the mass democratic movement that had brought down the apartheid state.
The most recent instance of state capture has galvanised a broad-based coalition of forces that share a commitment to building an uncaptured South African state. This is what our Constitution envisages. The choice must not be between different forms of capture, it must be between capture and no capture. In taking this stand we are going up against the defeatist view on both the left and right that ‘the state is always captured, so why the fuss?’
By focusing on this latest instance of state capture we hope to reinforce the movement for a democratic, uncaptured state, thereby ensuring that South Africans will in future regard all forms of state capture as totally unacceptable. Indeed, in our view, this is a precondition for inclusive development, despite the fact that there are very few examples of large-scale redistribution of wealth taking place within a democratic framework.
Turning against the Constitution
From about 2010 the South African government started to introduce measures to control the diffusion of information and tacitly regulate the press.
In 2011, in the face of impressive opposition, a majority of members of Parliament representing the ruling ANC voted to pass the Protection of State Information Bill, which was especially controversial for giving government officials the right to classify as ‘top secret’ any government information deemed to be in the ‘national interest’.
As activists from the Right2Know Campaign argued over and over again, the definition of the ‘national interest’ in the Bill was so broad as to exclude virtually nothing from censorship. The Bill also criminalised ‘whistleblowing’ and investigative journalism by imposing heavy jail sentences on anybody holding ‘classified’ information.
This resonated with the findings of a 2008 Ministerial Review Commission on Intelligence which had found that the mandate of the South African intelligence services was so broadly defined that ordinary democratic activity could be construed as a national security threat.
Eventually, President Jacob Zuma refused to assent to the legislation, halting its passage into law, on the basis that it would fail at the Constitutional Court. It was, nonetheless, symptomatic of a wider trend.
During this period there were concerted efforts to create alternative media platforms more sympathetic to the ANC government. In this regard, a daily newspaper, The New Age, was launched in 2010. Owned by the controversial Gupta family (whose activities are discussed in detail in Chapter 4), it has an explicit mandate to present a positive image of the ANC.
Today it claims that it provides positive news that is critically constructive. In 2013 the Guptas launched a 24-hour news channel, ANN7, with the same purpose. More recently, as the Zuma administration came under increasing pressure (see below), ANN7 became a more brazenly propaganda channel.
As the Zuma administration radicalised and tended towards illegality and straightforward criminality, so it became dependent on managing increasingly complex relations, many of them involving people engaged in unlawful activities.
At this time Zuma’s administration made moves to establish control over key state institutions, especially those involved in criminal investigations and prosecution: SARS, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (known as the ‘Hawks’) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). In all these proceedings there was the shadow of South Africa’s intelligence services, including the involvement of apartheid-era intelligence officers.
To construct what we call the ‘shadow state’, two imperatives came into play. Firstly, as the Zuma-centred political project tended towards illegality it was driven into the shadows, with the concomitant risk of the loss of political control. Hence, some form of management system was needed to keep it on course. Secondly, it became necessary to shut down certain investigations and immunise or protect key people from prosecution.
Taken together, the events occurring at SARS and those involving the Hawks (as well as the NPA) suggest that as the Zuma administration became radicalised, and resorted increasingly to unlawful means to pursue its agenda of radical economic transformation, so it was driven to ‘capture’ and weaken key state institutions. In this way, the political project of the Zuma administration has come at a very heavy price for the capability, integrity and stability of the South African state.
This book describes and analyses the primary dynamics of this process. Shadow State: The Politics of State Capture is published by Wits University Press. DM
Albert Einstein worked as an electrician at Oktoberfest 1896.