Defend Truth


Total capture is a better way to describe the capture of the state, institutions and policy-making in ANC-led government


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

What is clear from evidence of the collapse of public services, maladministration, looting and a general lack of ethics is that ‘total capture’ began before the Guptas allegedly became involved, and has continued since their departure. There have been serious cases of breakdown, collapse and bankruptcy, looting and rapid pecuniary gain among cadres of the ruling alliance at least since 2000.

It may be time for us to stop referring to State Capture in the past tense, associating it entirely with the Gupta era. It is clear, almost every day, that the state and institutions are being hollowed out by deployees of the ruling alliance. This deployment has the effect, also, of cognitive capture; embedding the ideas and values, and the culture and traditions of a liberation movement that seems to be unable or unfit for the purpose of statecraft. The “capture” then, includes the state, institutions and the ideas, or cognitive capture.

We think we know, by now, what State Capture is. Members of the ruling elite have been placed in key positions in the state to “serve” narrow vested interests (fingers point to the now notorious Gupta family). Institutional capture occurs when a particular group is able to place their agents within institutions and secure their demands without much effort or resistance. The best-developed example of “institutional capture” is the way in which pharmaceutical companies, in particular, were able to direct trade negotiations and decisions in the GATT/WTO processes with little to no resistance.

Cognitive capture was best explained by Raghuram Rajan, as a better expression for “crony capitalism”. In his study of the 2008 global crisis, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten The World Economy, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund identified the way in which “Wall Street alumni occupied powerful positions in the government and federal reserve” of the United States. By the stroke of “a pen or a key [they] can send billions of dollars of public money in one direction or another,” Rajan explained.

Capture continues in the present

In these senses, then, capture of the state, its institutions and its policies are directed and completed by Luthuli House, which is run by the inscrutable Ace Magashule. This brings us neatly to a communique Magashule, he of Gangster State notoriety. In the communique, the ANC secretary-general insisted that only people vetted by the “deployment committee” – an old Soviet-style body – ought to be placed in positions of power and influence. These positions include directors-general, chairpersons, “CEOs”, and “all boards of SOE’s” (sic). The secretary-general was clear, only once the deployment committee approved of a “comrade”, would the Cabinet have its say.

“The office of the Deputy Secretary-General should be informed of all posts prior to them being advertised and be sent the advert once they have been published. This process is to allow for Comrades who meet the criteria on the database to be allowed to apply… No appointment should be taken to Cabinet without passing through the deployment committee first,” the communique from Magashule’s office said.

The capture, by the ruling alliance, of the state, of institutions and of policymaking, influence and authority in the government, continues, then, unabated. It may well be argued that the ANC has a mandate to govern. It is also true that in most democracies (like the UK or Britain) the most senior officials of the incoming administration replace existing officials. But there is continuity and stability in, say, the British, German or Singaporean public service, and there is no Soviet-style vetting system, nor is there anything like the bloated National Executive Committee of the ANC that may have the power to interfere with the business of state.

Before and after the Guptas

What is clear, from evidence of the collapse of public services, maladministration, looting and a general lack of ethics, is that “total capture” began before the Guptas allegedly became involved, and has continued since their departure. The Guptas cannot and should not be absolved if they are found guilty of crimes. But there have been serious cases of breakdown, collapse and bankruptcy, looting and rapid pecuniary gain among cadres of the ruling alliance at least since 2000.

Let’s look at one contemporary problem. It was reported last weekend that the Eastern Cape healthcare system has virtually collapsed. Patients in places like Port Elizabeth’s Livingstone Hospital are reportedly lying in corridors, and face death. In Zwide, there are similar conditions in Dora Nginza. There is, generally, also, a shortage of oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients 

“Many of them need oxygen, but there is not enough for everyone. So, those without oxygen are fighting those who do have it to try to ‘steal’ it. Sick people are fighting each other. It is literally a ‘survival of the fittest’ situation. It is awful,” one distraught doctor has said.

Let’s go back about 10 years, when on 5 December 2011, Limpopo was placed under administration. The national government explained at the time that the province was bankrupt and could no longer run its affairs. We should bear in mind that Julius Malema, at the time the ANC Youth League leader, became enormously wealthy. Most recently, Malema has also been implicated (not arrested, not prosecuted and not found guilty), in the looting of VBS Mutual Bank.

Earlier this week the Zondo Commission heard evidence in connection with allegations of corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). The former Prasa chairperson, Popo Molefe, appeared before Justice Raymond Zondo for the sixth time, and recalled how former CEO Lucky Montana was exposed for lying about a R2-billion tender being properly awarded. Molefe referred to reports about the fallout between the board and Montana. He said there were serious concerns that a chairperson of the board capital and finance committee wanted the board to approve a modernisation tender for the Braamfontein depot. Molefe said the board did not approve the tender:

“The tender for that depot didn’t exist and he knew it didn’t exist and the tender process for that time involved well over R2-billion.”

What we have, then, is a “total capture” that preceded the Guptas and that continues to blight state and society. This is especially critical in sectors of the economy that are struggling. All fingers point to the ruling alliance. On this basis, it can be argued that we should not speak of “State Capture” in the past tense, as if it is something that happened for a few years and stopped after it was exposed in 2016.

It is clear that the looting, maladministration and virtual collapse of state institutions continue, unabated. In this way, a “total capture” includes State Capture (where state officials have been “bought” or “bribed” for access to tenders). This was replicated in institutions, like Prasa, Denel and to a limited extent, at Eskom — and the cognitive capture emanates from Luthuli House.

The key, here, is that none of these began and ended with the Gupta family. To the extent that they, Malema, Montana or Magashule are guilty of everything they’re accused of, total capture began with the deployment of party loyalists who were insuffciently qualified to do their jobs (hence the glut of consultants early in the 2000s), and it continues today. DM