Adriaan Basson

Forget the Guptas - state capture just became much scarier

2016-10-24 07:28

Adriaan Basson

If you thought that state capture meant the Gupta family offering Cabinet positions to unsuspecting comrades at Saxonwold, think again.

In fact, forget the Guptas. They’ve come and will go, like Schabir Shaik, Glenn Agliotti and Gaston Savoi. And after them will come another bunch of scoundrels dressed in suits, preying on politicians and civil servants to capture their power and influence over state expenditure.

The system deals with them. Exceedingly, frustratingly slow, but generally the system does flush out the scum, frequently with ample assistance from the culprits themselves.

(There is, of course, that uncomfortable little truth that the Guptas’ first political connections weren’t the Zumas, but former president Thabo Mbeki and his confidante Essop Pahad. But that’s a story for another day.)

For the system to flush out the scum, one of course assumes that a system exists. At the heart of a functioning criminal justice system lays its prosecutors – the people who decide which delinquents should be removed from society.

Yes, a judge or magistrate will still decide if enough evidence exists to send the crook to prison, but the mere initiation of a prosecution creates doubt in the minds of the public about an accused person’s character and integrity.

Therefore the person occupying the office of the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) should be beyond reproach. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should at all times perform its functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

The ANC government purposefully changed the system to protect the NPA from political interference.

The Constitution, legislation and jurisprudence by the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal (particularly in the case of Democratic Alliance vs President of South Africa and Others that dealt with the appointment of Advocate Menzi Simelane as NDPP) affirm the independence of the NPA against any executive interference.

That’s why it was mind-blowingly frightening to read in the Sunday Times that Advocate Shaun Abrahams, the current NDPP, met with President Jacob Zuma, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Justice Minister Michael Masutha and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini at Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters, on October 10.

Let’s be clear: Abrahams should never, ever visit Luthuli House or the offices of any political party for that matter, whatever the reason for his visit could be.

He is above that. His office deserves more respect than that. Just by allowing him to be summoned to the head office of the country’s governing political party, Abrahams has seriously undermined the status of his office and position.

The NDPP should never be summoned by any politician to attend anything that doesn’t clearly fall within his mandate of performing his functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

Questioned why he went to Luthuli House the day before he announced the NPA’s decision to criminally charge Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan with fraud, Abrahams had an extremely curious explanation to give.

“I was, however, at Luthuli House [on] Monday afternoon at the request of the minister of justice and correctional services, where I attended a meeting relating to the state of anarchy as a direct result of the violent student unrest ... with, inter alia, the minister of justice, minister of state security, minister of social development and the president,” he told the Sunday Times.

Zuma’s spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga added: “President Zuma called some ministers to provide him with updates on the security situation at university campuses. The president was keen to be briefed on what was being done to protect security staff, students and property during the protests.”

Dlamini said she was there as acting defence minister. Masutha and Mahlobo didn’t comment.

Let’s unpack the Zuma-Abrahams story.

Zuma wants to be briefed on the security situation on campuses. He calls “some ministers”. Which are the first two ministers he calls? Higher education and police, one would think. But no. He calls the ministers of justice, intelligence and social development (acting as defence).

The plot thickens. According to the Zuma-Abrahams story, Masutha then decided of his own volition to invite Abrahams to the meeting. At Luthuli House. To discuss student protests.

What possible contribution could the NDPP have made? If Zuma wanted to know how many students have been arrested, he could have asked Masutha to find out. Or used Google.

The plot thickens even further. The police weren’t invited to the meeting!

The state agency at the coalface of student protests (or “state of anarchy” in Abrahams' words) wasn’t invited to supposedly brief the president on the situation.

A few hours after briefing Zuma and three of his closest allies, Abrahams announces at an extended press conference (for which he presumably would have had to prepare for the previous day) that Gordhan would be charged with fraud for approving an early retirement payout for his erstwhile deputy at Sars, Ivan Pillay. And a few days later Julius Malema is charged by the same NPA unit (to which Abrahams previously belonged to) prosecuting Gordhan.

The whole thing stinks. The Zuma-Abrahams story just simply doesn’t add up.

Mahlobo is Zuma’s shadow who moves with him wherever he goes. Dlamini is president of the ANC Women’s League and a vocal Zuma backer, who took on ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu in the party’s national working committee last week when Mthembu criticised the abuse of state resources to prosecute Gordhan and called on the ANC’s entire national executive committee (NEC) to resign. The nondescript Masutha seems to be a useful idiot in this great political persecution playing out in front of our eyes.

If I was Gordhan’s lawyer, I would demand to see every single note taken during the October 10 meeting at Luthuli House. But the finance minister will probably not be so lucky to be handed spy tapes the meeting shortly before his trial commences.

In her excellent autobiography Not Without a Fight, former DA leader Helen Zille writes: “The truth is that many institutions of state were captured long ago, by the ANC faction under Jacob Zuma. Because South Africans so regularly conflate the party and the state, very few people understand what this means and how serious it is.

“The state comprises a range of institutions, intended to protect the public from power abuse by politicians in public office, and from criminals of all kinds. These institutions must, among other things, adjudicate disputes and conflicts, according to the law, independently, without succumbing to political influence.

“Zuma’s determination to capture these institutions and to turn them into an extension of his corrupt inner circle proceeded largely unnoticed until the Guptas captured Zuma and, through him, any state institution they wanted to manipulate. Then the outrage at ‘state capture’ broke the sound barrier.”

The thought that Abrahams and the NPA have been captured by Zuma and his cabal is much scarier than anything the Guptas can say or do.

- Basson is News24 editor. Follow him on Twitter: @adriaanbasson.

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