Opinionista Floyd Shivambu 8 January 2018

A lesson for Gwede: Theft on grand scale is committed by the rich, at the expense of the poor

Gwede Mantashe’s argument that the new ANC President will not steal because he is wealthy is ideologically sterile, intellectually lazy, and opportunistic. To insinuate that poor people are the ones responsible for thieving is disingenuous and dishonest.

The African National Congress’ recently elected National Chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, is quoted saying that the recently elected President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa is rich and will therefore not steal money from the public purse. His exact words were:

We have a president who has money, who’s wealthy, who will not be tempted to steal… He is the president of the ANC. He is wealthy, he is rich. If he steals we will ask him: ‘Why do you steal? Because you have enough.’”

Besides its ideological sterility and intellectual paucity, the statement by Mantashe is insulting to the poor, opportunistic and false. An absolute majority of poor people in South Africa live honest and straightforward lives and even submit to the cruel exploitative practices of their rich bosses. We therefore carry the obligation to provide uncompromising and decisive political and ideological clarity to enlighten society and prevent sycophants from repeating the same intellectual laziness.

The ideological sterility in Mantashe’s sorry narrative stems from the fact that all scientific and ideologically sound analyses of theft of public resources all over the world agree that theft is done for the enrichment of the already rich. The crisis of the world, and of South Africa post 1994, is a crisis of rich people, who are inherently defined by insatiable appetite for more resources. The crisis caused by capitalism is a crisis of rich capitalists and their extensions in political office, who do everything in their power for profit and wealth maximisation. Contrary to mainstream propaganda, super-rich capitalists in South Africa are responsible for the reproduction of poverty, inequalities and unemployment.

All instances and realities of sophisticated and unsophisticated theft of money by the Guptas, Steinhoff and the Stellenbosch group are committed by super rich individuals, not by the poor. Where Gwede Mantashe gets this decidedly false narrative that wealthy people do not steal escapes our imagination. If he says he will question the wealthy ANC President if he steals, why didn’t Mantashe question the super-rich Mine Owners, the expert tax avoiders, the Guptas and President Jacob Zuma as to why are they stealing our resources? These too are immensely wealthy people.

Theft and thievery of the grandest scale in South Africa and all over the world are committed by the rich, at the expense of the poor. A demystified definition of capitalism is that it is theft of commonly generated wealth by few individuals, and these few individuals are the rich. The poor are not the ones stealing public resources. To insinuate that poor people are the ones responsible for thieving is disingenuous and dishonest. The poor are used as scapegoats and conveyor belts of thievery by those who have access to money and power. It is in the name of poor black people that the very few rich black capitalists got to gain massive wealth. The majority of, if not all black capitalists in South Africa, used blackness and historical disadvantages of the black majority to accumulate wealth for themselves and their families.

The biggest scandals of corruption and theft of public money in South Africa were never committed by poor people, but by filthy rich and rapacious greedy individuals. There is no big business operation in South Africa that is not defined by a certain degree of thievery, either through tax avoidance or an underpaid labour force. Our country is run by criminal enterprises, controlled by rich people, and all of them have shelf companies in South Africa and in tax havens, which are used to steal money due to hardworking, poor South Africans.

Examples of theft at an industrial scale committed by rich people include, but not limited to the following:

  1. The Guptas are not poor, and in actual fact are the richest black family in South Africa.
  1. Steinhoff is controlled by one of South Africa’s richest individuals, Christo Wiese, but was engaged in criminal activities that depleted more than R20 billion in pension funds.
  2. Jacob Zuma is the most highly paid public representative in SA, with a support structure that costs the state hundreds of millions. The State spends millions feeding Jacob Zuma and his family. His children’s involvement and known shares in Mabengela investments and cigarette smuggling companies are well documented, and all these give him access to hundreds of millions in personal wealth. That did not make him less corrupt.
  3. Tax avoidance in South Africa costs the state more than R100 billion annually, and at the forefront of this phenomenon are overpaid executives and billionaires who feel the need to accumulate at the expense of everyone else.
  4. It is common cause and scientifically proven now that Lonmin, where the current ANC President was once a director, shifted billions of Rands to a shelve company in Bermuda in order to avoid taxes and wages in South Africa. Such led to the massacre of workers in Marikana.
  5. The companies that colluded over construction of stadiums and 2010 World Cup infrastructure are owned and controlled by super-rich individuals.
  6. The companies that colluded to fix the bread price, preventing poor people from buying bread, are owned and controlled by rich people.

The list can go on and on, and nowhere will you find poor people who stole hundreds of millions and billions of rands. So the narrative that rich people are unlikely to steal is utterly false, opportunistic and unsound. It must be dismissed in its infancy, because that’s clearly one of the half-truths the ANC wants to spread to revive its declining electoral fortunes.

Contrary to the opportunistic narrative that wealthy people are unlikely to steal, South Africa should be worried that a potential primary custodian of the public purse will be someone who is too wealthy. In the political, economic sense, public resources are not safe with rich people, because they know how to steal on an industrial scale. Entrusting public resources and the laws that govern such resources with wealthy people is actually very dangerous.

Whilst Ramaphosa was contextually the better evil of those who contested the ANC 54th National Conference, that does not mean that he will not engage in activities that will subjectively benefit him and his business interests. It will be naïve of Mantashe and whole of society to believe that a potential president with a long list of recent past business interests will not engage in activities that will directly or indirectly benefit his/her business interests.

History tells us that we should never trust individuals in power because it overwhelms them to the extent of engaging in fiscally catastrophic activities in order to increase their personal wealth. Instead of saying an individual will not steal because he is rich, a senior leader of any political party should say we need to strengthen our laws and institutions to withstand any individual attempt to steal our resources. In their current form and design, institutions which are supposed to hold senior public representatives accountable are too weak, and the focus should be on strengthening them.

The opportunism in the statement by Mantashe comes from the reality that the ANC relies heavily on half-truths to communicate electoral messages. In the recent past, Zuma’s ignorance and lack of knowledge about anything was communicated as being one with the people. It was only demonstrated during Zuma’s Presidency that his lack of sophistication did not mean he was one with the people, but instead led to the total capture of State-Owned Enterprises by a family and a stagnant economy. South Africa was hijacked by corrupt and opportunistic conmen from India, mostly due to Zuma’s lack of sophistication.

In South Africa’s rural areas and peri-urban areas, the ANC relies on a widely spread falsehood that its removal from power will end social grants, which are disbursed to more than 15 million recipients monthly. Unsuspecting and innocent people are always told that the end of the ANC equals to the end of social grants, which despite its necessity and unavoidability in the current period, is doing very little to uproot structural poverty that defines our people. The ANC’s relevance in rural areas and peri-urban communities is not because they represent superior logic and solutions to people’s developmental challenges, but because of half-truths, mostly around social grants.

It is clear from the beginning that the opportunistic falsehood and narrative the ANC will spread to regain its declining electoral fortunes will be that Ramaphosa is rich and will therefore not steal. As truthful and revolutionary activists, we will expose this opportunistic falsehood. The correct reading of history actually reveals that rich people are the greatest thieves and often use poor people to justify and legitimate stolen wealth. The many instances of corruption at all levels of the state are also done by rich people, who take advantage of adventurist public officials who aspire for quick wealth, to subvert legal processes in awarding of tenders and state procurement.

If he ever becomes RSA President, which is unlikely, it is not guaranteed that Ramaphosa will not divert public resources for personal gain. If anything, and based on thorough historical reading, Ramaphosa is more susceptible to stealing public resources on an industrial scale because like all capitalists, he knows which laws to relax and/or tighten for his businesses to thrive. Of course, the levels of sophistication in thievery will differ from how Jacob Zuma stole from the public purse, but there is no guarantee that Ramaphosa’s current wealth will be prohibitive of his potential involvement in theft of public resources.

What is more important, and perhaps an issue Mantashe should have spoken about, is strengthening of democratic institutional capacity to prohibit and prevent any theft of public resources by any individual without consequences. The crisis South Africa faced under the Zuma presidency was flagrant theft of public resources and capture of SOEs without any consequence. The state’s capacity to fight corruption committed by the head of state is structurally weakened and remains weak because a president has the legislated and constitutional powers to hire and fire those who must enforce the law against him/her.

At this stage, the last days in dominant political office, the ANC should focus on the repositioning and efficacy of the laws that govern institutions such as the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA), Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), South African Revenue Services (SARS), South African Reserve Bank (SARB), South African Police Services (SAPS), HAWKS, and all law enforcement agencies so as to enable them to act independent of corrupt political considerations.

We as political parties and, broadly, civil society, will enhance and harness our vigilance against any theft of public resources by anyone, including a president. Citizens should exercise their constitutional rights to vote out corrupt governments like they did in Tshwane, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela and will do in Gauteng, Limpopo, North West and the whole of SA in the 2019 general elections.

Under the Zuma Presidency, the EFF reclaimed some of the stolen money through #PAYBACKTHEMONEY programme we led in Parliament and courts, and we remain vigilant. The EFF’s vigilance will be 10 times more if Cyril Ramaphosa becomes president, because like all rich people, he is most likely to engage in sophisticated activities aimed at benefiting his private businesses. Mantashe should be forgiven for making an unscientific, ahistorical, ideologically dormant, intellectually lazy and opportunistic statement on the relationship between wealth and theft. He did not know what he was saying. DM

Floyd Shivambu is EFF Deputy President.

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