First published in Daily Maverick 168
In April 2011, the touristy seaside town of Chintsa near East London played host to what one weekly newspaper dubbed South Africa’s “wedding of the year”. The fact that it was only four months into the year and perhaps too early to crown the wedding as such, did not matter. Clearly, the barometer for gauging weddings of the year is a subjective issue.
The wedding in question was that of Duduzile Zuma, daughter of former president Jacob Zuma and the late Kate Mantsho, to Lonwabo Sambudla.
The guest list was impressive and included an array of ministers, local celebrities, businesspeople and hangers-on.
Zuma walked his daughter down the aisle and when the time came during the reception, he took the microphone to speak. As parents are wont to do at such events, he shared personal anecdotes about his daughter and described how she differed from her twin, Duduzane, in character and personality.
He became emotional as he spoke of Duduzane, whom he described as an honest businessman trying to make a living. The media, he charged, was targeting a well-meaning young man, all because he happened to be his son. It’s an age-old Zuma trope — that he is the victim of a conspiracy.
At the time there were already questions about Duduzane’s relationship with the Gupta family. His meteoric rise from interning at Sahara Computers to the boardroom, as a shareholder in a number of Gupta companies, was the stuff of legends.
Duduzane’s rise in business and influence was concomitant with his father’s ascendancy to high office.
One was reminded of the 2011 wedding when the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) appeared before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday. SIU head Andy Mothibi and his team made a case for legislation to be changed so politically exposed people have to declare their relationships when bidding for government contracts.
Currently there is nothing that precludes the associates and family members of politicians from doing business with the state, as long as they tick all the procurement boxes.
The SIU revealed it was investigating contracts accounting for R10.5-billion of the total of R15.6-billion spent on emergency procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a result of Covid-19 — nearly 70% of all PPE contracts in value terms.
The problem, though, is not inadequate legislation; it’s rampant corruption. The issue of politically exposed people benefiting from state contracts has always been an ethical grey area. Is there a universally accepted definition of those who are politically connected, and how far do we go in proving proximity to power? Do all the guests at the Zuma wedding qualify as politically exposed?
One is not convinced that changing legislation will deal with the root cause of the problem. To change legislation just to cure a symptom is not the way to go. What needs to be done is that more people who are engaged in corruption should be arrested, tried and jailed — political ties notwithstanding.
Obviously some, if not most, of the PPE contracts awarded during the lockdown do raise eyebrows, such as the R125-million contract awarded by the Gauteng Health Department to an inexperienced company owned by the husband of presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko. Diko is family friends with Bandile Masuku, who was fired as Gauteng health MEC over the scandal.
The pungent odour of such a contract is overwhelming. Something is rotten and the law enforcement agencies have to get to the bottom of the matter.
Also in Parliament was the Asset Forfeiture Unit, whose head Ouma Rabaji-Rasethaba told Scopa of the unit’s efforts to recover billions of rands transferred to offshore accounts by the corrupt.
Although she did not mention the Guptas by name, we know the NPA has been trying, without much success, to get cooperation from the United Arab Emirates to have the Guptas extradited to answer the charges they are facing.
Having bought a R400-million home and moved their stolen billions there, the Guptas seem safely ensconced in Dubai.
And with no sense of irony, the young Zuma gave a television interview from his apartment in Dubai this week. He chose the SABC’s lifestyle show, Trending SA, as a platform to respond to reports that the Zondo Commission has asked banks for the financial records of Zuma senior and his family.
Duduzane charged that his family was being persecuted and their rights were being trampled on.
Like father, like son, it seems.
Clearly, Duduzane benefited from proximity to his father. The Guptas were also rewarded handsomely for their “talent-spotting” as they amassed billions in state contracts through corrupt means and bullying. In most cases, they used the young Zuma as their intermediary.
While this is a classic case of politically exposed persons using their relationships for their financial benefit, it is equally a case of undue benefit and malfeasance. The link is obvious.
This is where our law enforcement agencies should expend their energies — chasing the wrongdoers. The message needs to filter down to all levels that crime does not pay. Those accused of corruption should be brought down from the dizzying heights of the Burj Khalifa to face the music. DM168
Sibusiso Ngalwa is Politics Editor at Newzroom Afrika and Sanef chair.