DM168 Reflection

Ramaphosa’s #GuptaLeaks admission, four years too late

By Branko Brkic 1 May 2021

Gupta leaks

Is it fair to allow journalists to be harassed, to be threatened with violence and/or rape? Of course not. Did the government of South Africa do anything to curb it? Of course not. Is this abuse bound to continue for a long time? Of course it is.

As I sat in my newly mangled 10-year-old Honda CR-V, after rolling it for what felt like eternity, the future in which the #GuptaLeaks project would see the light of day, and have an impact on South Africa’s reality, looked very distant.

The date was 5 May 2017, and I didn’t just roll. I also flew (or it felt like flying) over the top deck of Cape Town’s Philip Kgosana Drive, praying all the way I wouldn’t land on the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the lower deck (it was Friday, and the lane to the southern suburbs was packed).

Someone up there must have looked after me. My tumble hurt no one, not even myself. (My trusty Honda disappeared, towed by an AA truck, destined for a scrapyard somewhere out of town, her three wheels flapping aimlessly, the fourth wheel missing.)

Reality eventually streamed back. I had to think of work again. The little group of people in the know (my Daily Maverick partner Styli Charalambous, our close friends from amaBhungane, Stefaans Brümmer and Sam Sole, and the News24 team that later joined us) went on to weather multiple crises, endure the worst of betrayals, and even through a short but still intense pain of being scooped, to deliver the #GuptaLeaks to SA, forever blowing the lid off State Capture.

And yet. Many hundreds of actors in this horror story are still uncaptured. It is unfathomable to me how much leeway South Africa still gives to people whose wrongdoing has been exposed.

It could take years to bring charges, if they are ever brought. And, if a trial did start, there would be many years of delays, contestations and appeals ahead. The accused can use part of their ill-gotten gains to hire the best lawyers in the field.

Long before that, for a few pennies they could hire armies of bots and trolls to harass the media, and journalists personally, aiming to make their lives a living hell – a reminder to the journalists’ colleagues of what awaits them, should they dare to walk the same path. Which sector of SA’s society never stopped shining a light on incompetence, decay and industrial-grade corruption bordering on crimes against humanity? It was the media, or what is left of it after the years of struggling to survive in this new world of social media and asocial shamelessness.

Is it fair to allow journalists to be harassed, to be threatened with violence and/or rape? Of course not. Did the government of South Africa do anything to curb it? Of course not. Is this abuse bound to continue for a long time? Of course it is.

Many will claim otherwise, but the reality is that the media and judiciary did fulfil their constitutional duties, with great support from civil society. The media are at the coalface of fighting for truth and the law in South Africa. Also endangered, the judiciary is doing its duty in the final stretch.

It is the centre of this “process of justice”, dominated by the ANC and its government, that has been compromised beyond recognition. Lost in State Capture, they gave criminals a new lease on life. Where are the investigations, charges and prosecutions of the criminals who ruined South Africa? We have seen only a smattering of charges in the three years since Zuma was forced to step down. History will be harsh on the ANC for such dereliction of duty at every level.

It took almost exactly four years for the president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, not only to admit the importance (he sort of did it earlier – as a throwaway remark in one of his meetings with the South African National Editors Forum), but also to recognise, on the national stage, the patriotism of the journalists and editors who risked everything to expose State Capture.

The importance and accuracy of the media’s State Capture investigations should not have ever been dismissed, even at the time of their publication. Yet those who published the #GuptaLeaks were called racists, our investigations were seen as illegal, and the claims as not serious enough to be discussed by the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). They looked away.

If they think that their cowardly acts will ever be forgotten, they are mistaken.

Ramaphosa’s admission at the Zondo Commission that the journalists who doggedly pursued these investigations were also great patriots was important. By contrast, just last week, ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe referred to the first media reports on State Capture as “racist”, a position 180º away from his president’s. So … who to believe? What is the core belief shared by the majority of ANC members?

Photo of Ajay and Atul Gupta by Gallo Images.

These may be cynical times, but one cannot deny that the motivation of most investigative journalists is love for South Africa and its people. We don’t do this for the money, because there’s no money to be made in this line of work. We do this because we believe in truth and fairness.

We believe in being on the right side of history. And we believe that the good people of South Africa deserve to live in a country where we all know what’s right and what’s wrong, and that stealing will result in you being jailed.

Now, knowing all of this, and even having the president of the ANC admit we were right all along, let me remind you of a few other media investigations that still need to be dealt with in a court of law. Here’s a list of some of the stories Scorpio and amaBhungane have worked on since the #GuptaLeaks:

  • Attacks on the judiciary by Judge John Hlophe;
  • The cost and depth of the VBS scandal’s moral debauchery;
  • Ace Magashule’s corrupt reign in the Free State;
  • Eskom, Transnet, Denel, Prasa, the new-energy sector, Regiments, Trillian, McKinsey;
  • The SA Police Service, the SA Revenue Service, the Public Investment Corporation;
  • Steinhoff, Bosasa;
  • Iqbal Survé’s pyramid structure;
  • The Department of Health and PPE corruption during this pandemic; and
  • Johannesburg corruption involving Mayor Geoff Makhubo and the EFF.

Our teams have put so much damning information about all this into the public domain that it would not take a gargantuan effort to throw the book at all the perpetrators. And yet they’re all still free – and louder, more threatening by the day.

So, President Ramaphosa, thank you for recognising what these extraordinary journalists have done and for affirming their humanity. The best way to thank us, however, is to give the SAPS, the Hawks and the NPA sufficient resources to tackle all the crimes we have already exposed.

Failure to do so will result in State Capture – the next generation. Next time, however, South Africa might not be so lucky as to have a bunch of brilliant, tough, resourceful investigative journalists on its side. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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All Comments 14

  • Might I add the fight with false news and not so truthful media houses too who may believe that if independent is in your name, maybe people will believe you.
    Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Branko, we are truly grateful to you and your team – keep up the good work. We are with you all the way. We will never give up…

  • ‘Be on the right side of history’… Thank you for keeping up the flag of truth, justice and fairness when even an elected government and an entire nation,who have a pretender for a president, cannot do so.

  • Thank you for persevering & for continuing to expose their corruption in the face of hostile opposition & aggression from this criminal cabal that masquerades as a government.

    The country owes you guys a huge debt of gratitude!

  • How difficult it is to chart a course through a sea of corruption, especially when the corrupt churn up those waters with fake news and make every attempt to save themselves.
    We owe you!!

  • Thanks so incredibly much to the Daily Maverick, AmaBhungane, News24 and other journalists who have and are continuing to do such critical work in uncovering and reporting the truth. There is still enormous work still to be done, may civil society and the public continue to support the fight!

    • JB Jellybean, you take the words from my mouth. Let’s hope more people join this national treasure of investigative journalism, and when Justice is obtained let’s hope you will all receive medals for, no doubt, risking your lives to save this beautiful country.

  • During his Italian campaign Napoleon came across a soldier lying in the mud and cold after the day’s fighting.He threw his cloak over the soldier and said:”Bring back my cloak in the morning so I can reward you with the pension and honours you deserve!”

  • “…accused…can hire the best lawyers in the field…” is central to state capture! The dastardly role of some ‘lawyers’ who prostitute themselves to grab their share of the ill-gotten loot, needs to scrutiny! As a ‘species’ they should not be allowed to avoid scrutiny! Think of “shut up” types!

  • Entirely agree. It’s a gross and unforgivable travesty of justice that most of the key State Capture players have still not been charged and jailed.

    The incredible work done by the most courageous investigative journalists, often at great risk to your very lives, must be respected and immediately acted upon.

    • Maybe it is time for the ‘new’ NPA to be investigated? How is it possible to have all the proof readily available and yet not a single arrest or prosecution of a well-known crook has taken place? Zuma, Magashule, Jooste et al to name a few.

  • Thank you Branko. Keep up the vital work. The time will come when justice will be served on the failure of the ANC to do what was right and just.

  • “So … who to believe? What is the core belief shared by the majority of ANC members?” Believe gwede, simple. cr made it very clear that it is ‘the anc above all”, no matter what the cost. In this instance, I believe gwede is more honest than cr.

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