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There’s more to state capture than meets the eye – let’s join the dots


Sipho Pityana was president of Business Unity South Africa from 2018 to 2021.

South Africans are drowning in a deluge of Gupta emails and research reports on the scale of state capture. But, believe it or not, the situation is probably even worse than what we know now – and we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Jacob Zuma’s project to sell South Africa’s sovereignty could involve rigging the ANC elections in 2017, and even the national elections in 2019.

The leadership crisis and the ravaging uncertainty that South Africa is going through now affect all of us.

I say this because the ethical failures committed by President Jacob Zuma are not confined to the President’s office. They are cascading down, like a disease, into every aspect of South African life. They are killing our country, and killing us with it. Every extra day Zuma remains in power, this erosion continues and our crisis deepens.

Zuma’s strategy is simple: keep the ANC firmly captured by stealing the leadership elections at the party’s elective conference in December, and install his protege. His successor as President of the ANC – and, subsequently, the country – would make sure that he not only stays out of jail, but also that the state capture project continues unabated.

Do not believe the promises that Zuma will be removed after the ANC conference and that we’ll have a new President of the country early next year. These are false promises by people in the ANC leadership who have long lost power to the forces of capture. We know they have no say on key policy issues or leadership appointments to key positions in government and are unable to rein in an errant leader – so why should we expect them to have a say on who leads the country?

With his protege in place, Zuma’s next project would be to steal the 2019 general election – and plans are afoot to achieve that. With these two projects achieved, the fate of our country will be sealed: our sovereignty will be lost and our democracy gone. I’ll say more about this later.

I believe it is true that the fish rots from the head. The problem we face, as South Africans, is that the rot is so advanced that it’s already approaching the tail. And unless we act soon, this beautiful creature that we call South Africa will soon be a rotten pile of bones.

We all have a duty to play our part to end this scourge of corruption. And when we see wrongdoing, rather than turn the other way, we need to call it out. Blow the whistle.

We need to be active citizens, and fully involved in ethical behaviour wherever we find ourselves. But to be active citizens, we need to be informed citizens. And being an informed citizen, as former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has told us, means being able to join the dots and understand what is going on around us.

Let’s join a few dots…

Upfront, I must say it would be naïve to think that what is going on in South Africa today is merely “domestic politics”, or the result of a succession battle within the ANC. Nor is it simply a case of the Gupta family sitting in Saxonwold and dishing out Cabinet positions, or trying to get rich quick.

The state capture project, with Zuma at its epicentre, is effectively an international crime syndicate. It is a global Mafia operation involving business and sometimes state interests in China, Russia, Asia, the Middle East and several African countries.

It’s already common knowledge, from the #GuptaLeaks, that dodgy deals have been done with Chinese business interests. Massive kickbacks were paid to Chinese companies for the supply of products to Transnet and possibly Prasa, at the expense of equally competent local firms, suggesting a conspiracy between South African and Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The same applies to the Middle East and Asia. Our Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba – a kingpin in the state capture project – is reported to have a secret bank account in Dubai and/or India. Our president and his son, Duduzane, own properties in Dubai, and are said to have similar bank accounts in those countries. The Guptas are reported to have taken billions of rand in cash to Dubai – suggesting nothing less than a conspiracy between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

You must ask yourself why it is that every captured minister and official in SOEs has to visit Dubai, even if for a day, as we’ve seen reported regarding so many of these officials.

If you dig deeper into some of the key figures involved in state capture, such as the former chairman of Eskom, Ben Ngubane, there’s even more evidence of a global connection: he allegedly used his contacts with the Guptas to develop business interests in the Central African Republic, for example, and they even kept his passport for him to make travel easier.

Who knows what else will be revealed through a proper investigation into his shenanigans, and his cohorts at other state-owned companies? (Remember, Central African Republic is where President Zuma sent some of our soldiers to prop up an unpopular leader, resulting in some of them being killed.)

And then there’s Asia, and the numerous forays by our local state-owned and Gupta-controlled arms manufacturer, Denel, and VR Laser, in partnership with a man called Salim Essa. These companies supposedly used front outfits and fake addresses to do business, and there can be no doubt that there was collaboration with business interests in those countries – again, reinforcing the notion of a global conspiracy.

Finally, there is Russia. The Russians have a very, very keen interest in the nuclear energy deals that the president allegedly signed irregularly on our behalf, which our courts have now stalled. There are billions of rand at stake. We have already seen indications that a deal is in the making, and there are consistent allegations that the captains of state capture, Zuma and the Guptas, have already received – or at least stand to get – massive kickbacks from any Russian nuclear energy deal.

Given the scale of the deals (estimated at about R1.8-trillion), even a small kickback is going to run into hundreds of millions. And, as we’ve seen from the various reports on state capture – from the SACC, the Public Affairs Research Institute and the former Public Protector herself – the kickbacks are never small.

So if you join the dots: in effect, and based merely on the uncontested evidence we have at hand, we have a president and his cronies who stand at the centre of a global crime network that involves China, Russia, Asia, the Middle East and certain parts of Africa.

So this is not just about state capture by small timers that the Gupta are. This is a global conspiracy. And we shouldn’t be so naïve as to think otherwise.

There’s something worrying me about this, which goes way beyond my concern about international crime. It relates to what we’re seeing unfold at the moment in the United States, where there is increasing evidence that Russia interfered in the Americans’ election process.

Putin and his people appear to have done everything they could to get Donald Trump into power: They held secret meetings with top members of his elections campaign team. Hackers infiltrated his opponents’ computer systems. Top aides were co-opted into cosy relationships, running right to the top of the Trump machinery.

As the noose tightens around Trump’s neck, we need to ask ourselves: is it completely unrealistic to think that the Russians may have rigged some aspects of the US elections? And is it equally unrealistic to think that the Russians may want to do the same when we have our own elections in 2019? Wouldn’t they want to ensure that a Zuma protege is in power so that their nuclear deal is guaranteed?

And how much more could this be the case when you have a South African president with an even more broken ethical compass than Trump? A president who is prepared to let business interests take precedence over the national interest? A president who is prepared to sell his own country to the highest bidder?

I sincerely hope I am wrong. But I think we need to be very suspicious of what Zuma and his compradors are really up to. Why is the IEC suddenly wanting to change an IT system – one that has been used to successfully run several of our elections on time – for 2019, which would be the most fiercely contested election? Is their end game our economy – or our entire political system?

We have to be extremely vigilant. All of us.

We need to carefully guard institutions such as the Independent Electoral Commission.

We need to protect the independence of our Chapter 9 institutions including the public protector, and preserve the integrity of the judiciary, because we’re going to need them if this situation comes to play.

This is what concerns me, and it should concern you if you care about the future of your country. It is a deep, dark situation from which we may never return.

And, as we have learnt so many times with Jacob Zuma, it is best never to say “never”. DM

Pityana is the convenor of the Save South Africa campaign. This is an edited version of a speech on ethics he delivered at the annual meeting of the Marketing Code Authority in Johannesburg on 22 June.


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