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OPEN SECRETS BOOK

The Unaccountables: New book lists those hurting SA and getting away with it

The Unaccountables: New book lists those hurting SA and getting away with it
The Unacceptable book cover.

For five years, the researchers of Open Secrets have been working to expose people and institutions profiting from wrongdoing in South Africa. Their new book, ‘The Unaccountables’, aims to shine more light into the dark corners of South African society.

Apartheid profiteers. War profiteers. State Capture profiteers. Welfare profiteers. Bad bankers. Failing auditors. Conspiring consultants. Bad lawyers.

Taken together, these groups amount to something like a Who’s Who of people and institutions who have been hurting South Africa over the past half-century or so. 

They are the subjects of The Unaccountables, a new book from Open Secrets researchers Michael Marchant, Mamello Mosiana, Ra’eesa Pather and Hennie van Vuuren. It began as a series published in Daily Maverick.

The book “encapsulates the body of work [Open Secrets] has done” since its inception five years ago, Marchant told Daily Maverick in an interview with several members of the Open Secrets team at the NGO’s office in Salt River.

The aim of that work, Marchant says, is to highlight the often very wealthy, very powerful individuals and businesses who have harmed South Africa in the course of building personal profits – and have yet to be held to account in any significant way.

Flip through the book and you’ll find a dispiriting number of people and companies falling into this category.

There’s John Bredenkamp, for instance – hardly a household name in South Africa, but someone, the book suggests, “deserving of the infamy that polite company fastidiously reserves for the corrupt Gupta family”. Bredenkamp made hundreds of millions of rand from his role in helping to broker the 1999 arms deal with BAE Systems.

Bredenkamp died in 2020, but others catalogued by The Unaccountables are very much alive and kicking.

Take Roy Moodley, for instance. A pal of former president Jacob Zuma, Moodley was first exposed in a tender scandal involving one of his businesses and a state-owned entity – in this case, Telkom – as far back as 2001. 

The book estimates that Moodley would go on to score over a billion rand in irregular security contracts with Prasa – while train journeys became progressively more unsafe for ordinary commuters, and rail infrastructure would be stripped down to the last cable by thieves.

Then there’s Andrew Chauke, who to this day holds the post of the NPA’s head of public prosecutions for Johannesburg.

The Unaccountables details a number of allegations against Chauke, including “his role in the ten-year delay to prosecute former Gauteng Health MEC Brian Hlongwa’s R1,2-billion corruption case”, and his involvement as a member of the prosecution team who brought bogus racketeering charges against former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss, Johan Booysen.

“We want to keep these characters at the forefront of the public imagination,” says Marchant.

State not holding players to account

Part of the importance of making sure the wrongdoing chronicled by The Unaccountables is not forgotten, is that there is little evidence of the state holding key players to account. 

The Open Secrets researchers say this is not just evident in the scarcity of public sector corruption convictions, but also in questionable commercial decisions that the government continues to take.

Open Secrets founder Hennie van Vuuren points out, for instance, that Chinese state company China South Rail was “central to the destruction of Transnet” during the State Capture era.

“But just last week, South Africa decided to award the largest road contract to the Chinese government. It’s the same shareholder… Just as we demand [State Capture] reparations from [private companies like] Nedbank and Bain, we should also demand reparations from China,” says Van Vuuren.

What Open Secrets is ultimately seeking, suggests researcher Ra’eesa Pather, is “ways to disrupt impunity”.

One relatively rare example of this happening, cited by the Open Secrets team, is the ban placed by the South African state on doing business with Bain – though investigator Zen Mathe points out that it should be a source of embarrassment that Pretoria lagged behind Westminster in this regard.

Bain recurs as a talking point throughout our interview because the consultancy remains, in Marchant’s words, “emblematic of the role of the private sector” in State Capture.

Bain’s former South Africa head, Vittorio Massone, also epitomises the reality that private sector actors can be every bit as shameless and remorse-free as politicians. 

Massone never showed his face at the Zondo Commission and appeared just once at the Nugent inquiry investigating the collapse of Sars, facilitated by Bain.

Today, says Mathe, Massone is living in Italy and still working freely, now at the head of another consultancy.

Zondo Commission let off private sector too easily

Open Secrets has been vocal in its contention that the Zondo Commission was remiss in its handling of, in particular, financial services institutions implicated in State Capture.

Nedbank, the Bank of Baroda, HSBC, FNB, Standard Bank and Credit Suisse all come in for a pounding in The Unaccountables. So too do the Big Four audit firms, but also the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors, which the researchers accuse of being “too slow, secretive and toothless”.

Regulators and enforcement bodies are frequently in Open Secrets’ sights for being asleep at the wheel. 

One of their arguments is that the overwhelming focus on public sector corruption in South Africa essentially allows the private sector to get away with murder.

“Private and public sector corrupters work together, but there’s so much attention paid to the public sector that we forget the private sector,” Pather says.

“You see [former Transnet and Eskom CEO] Brian Molefe’s face, but not [McKinsey South Africa director] Vikas Sagar’s.”

The Unaccountables goes beyond profiling people who seem to have thus far benefited from apparent impunity. An important aspect of the book’s value is that it also identifies possible ways of seeking accountability in each case, whether from regulatory bodies, law enforcement or via changes in legislation.

There’s also a warning within it for anyone anxiously paging through the book to check if their own profile features.

“For the readers who themselves are implicated in economic crimes – your omission should not be read as undermining of your offence, nor a clean bill of health given your crimes,” The Unaccountables states.

“Our advice: do not be impatient if your infamy is not sufficiently recognised; rather be assured you are on the list of future investigations.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Alley Cat says:

    Thanks to these journalists who work tirelessly to investigate corruption. It must be heartbreaking for them when they see that little or no action is taken to hold the villains accountable. But keep up the good work!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    “The Unacceptable book cover.” Was this Freudian? I can’t wait to read it, despite being as ANC-crony corruption weary as an SA. We need to understand why and how we allowed ourselves to become so thoroughly disenfranchised and how, and to put names and faces to the ANC-government-enabled mess we will live with for decades! Will the day come when a SA president will stand and say, as Mandela did with Apartheid, never again will we be ruled by the corrupt ANC?

  • Confucious Says says:

    I can just hear Showerhead’s hehehehe giggling when someone else reads the book to him!

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