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It’s high time business makes amends for the role it played in State Capture


Lord Peter Hain is a former British Cabinet Minister and anti-apartheid campaigner whose memoir, ‘A Pretoria Boy: South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’, is published by Jonathan Ball.

A conscious and detailed strategy is needed to restore legal and ethical practice in the South African economy, with the business sector providing an uncompromising lead, not backmarking.

It takes two to tango. Blame for the infamous “Zupta” State Capture decade has mainly focused upon a corrupt president and his cronies. But South African and global businesses were culpable too.

The SA Revenue Service wouldn’t have been disabled without Bain & Co carrying out former president Jacob Zuma’s personal instructions to do that. Nor could the Guptas have laundered billions out of the country without banks like HSBC, Standard Chartered and Baroda enabling them to do so.

And the sorry story continues to this day, with ministers and councillors still wanting backhanders to dispense contracts to companies eager for the work and willing to pay.

It is high time the business community owned up and ostracised anybody still playing this game. Because if that happened, corrupt politicians and officials would have their looting massively curbed.

Most businesspeople moan about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s snail-like anti-corruption reforms. Yet implementation of the Zondo Commission’s 2022 report doesn’t only fall to the president and the law enforcement agencies.

South Africa’s business community must also provide a lead to stop the country becoming a “Mafia state”. Witness sabotage at Eskom and Transnet, assassinations, organised crime in the public and private sectors, extensive procurement corruption, disruption of transport, insurrectionary outbreaks, brazen theft of metals and attacks on the Constitution by leading politicians.

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It is no exaggeration to say that business slept through the State Capture years. And, at least until recently, was still doing so: witness the initial embrace of Bain & Co by Business Leadership South Africa, followed by an outcry hastily reversing that embrace. Indefensible, especially after Judge Zondo had found the company to have acted unlawfully, and recommended the NPA prosecute.

An important forum organised by the UK South Africa Chamber of Commerce, with Pretoria University’s business school, Gibs, on 15 February 2023, will be asked to endorse a new programme of measures.

These include an uncompromising refusal to pay backhanders for public procurement contracts. Also a refusal by consultants and lawyers to sanctify wrongdoing – in either state-owned enterprises or government – with “whitewashing” reports.

Brave anti-corruption whistle-blowers like Athol Williams, who exposed Bain, need to be encouraged and protected, not hounded, penalised and shunned by South African business.

Business Leadership SA, Business Unity SA, the JSE, SA Institute of Chartered Accounts, other business institutes, educational bodies, chambers, relevant business and trade bodies need to be proactive in endorsing this programme, and then acting upon it.

All of this to ensure that South Africa’s business reputation, which was consistently ranked in the world’s top five, is restored.

Unless the action agenda proposed by this programme is adopted, international investor confidence – so high under the Mandela and Mbeki regimes – will not be restored. 

Foreign direct investment is critical to the country’s future economic success, growth and prosperity, as well as eradicating poverty and unemployment.

In short, a conscious and detailed strategy is needed to restore legal and ethical practice in the South African economy, with the business sector providing an uncompromising lead, not backmarking.

Just like State Capture was not all down to dodgy politicians, South Africa will not emerge from its morass of corruption, dysfunctional public services, cronyism, crime, poverty, low-to-negative economic growth and unemployment unless everyone stands up to be counted and demands: “Never Again.”

Business must step up and insist that the country is set back on a path towards a society of equal opportunity for all, with a programme of empowerment, transformation, economic development and integrity in accordance with the Constitution and the rule of law. DM


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  • A Green says:

    Well written, especially love the part: “unless everyone stands”, reminds me of one of my favourite quotes “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” by Dr Seuss.
    Equal opportunities evokes a thought that we should all have the same opportunities, but we don’t all have access to it, much like that picture of children trying to watch a football match over a brick wall and the shortest child needs a chair to peer over. If only we saw the phrase, equal opportunity, in that way…

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    I see a lot of foreign businesses and banks mentioned here, and some South African SOEs, but which South African private sector businesses, pray tell, aided and abetted the State Capture?

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    The last state of emergency unleashed a wave of fraudulent procurement valued at some R14.4 billion. We haven’t even seen the SIU’s final report into this orgy of wasteful expenditure, but from what we do know there were about 1242 individual suppliers, who entered into 2803 irregular contracts.

    These are all de facto state capture players, and many of them were set up for the express purpose of looting state coffers. And as small businesses they are not held to the kind of disclosure requirements that you expect of big business.

    So whilst it’s thirst-quenching righteously to punish the likes of ABB, Bain, EOH etc, this does nothing to address the issue of the rats gnawing away at the wiring.

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