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For the ANC, Jesus might just come too soon

03 May 2013, 15:17

South African President, Jacob Zuma, once said the ANC is going to rule until Jesus comes.

Well, I am an atheist and Jesus' coming does particularly concern me. However based on the above, I am convinced that Jesus is going to come within the next two decades.

It is unlikely that the ANC, four or five general elections from now, will be able to win election with a sufficient majority to dictate who the president of the country should be.

It is perhaps ironic the it is President Zuma's associations that have in recent years been leading to a decline in the faith that South Africans have in the ANC. COPE split away from the ANC as a result of the fallout from Zuma's fight with Mbeki for the presidency of the organisation.

The most recent expulsion of a high ranking official, that of Julius Malema, is linked by some to the President's fight to retain the ANC presidency he wrestled from Mbeki.

Unfortunately, another scandal that has just erupted, is linked to a family regularly described as close associates of President Jacob Zuma.

Already christened Guptagate, the saga involves a plane carrying some Indian government officials, and private citizens, that was allowed to land at a military airbase. The plane apparently was not subjected to normal customs procedures. Newspaper reports also claim that it was carrying five truckloads of gifts.

I am not sure what logic was used to allow this plane to land without being subjected to normal customs procedures but whatever that logic is, it has little, if any, relation to normal diplomatic conventions.

As far as I know, only an officially marked diplomatic pouch, sometimes accompanied by a diplomatic courier is not subject to search or seizure by customs officials. Also as far as I know a diplomatic pouch can only be send from a country to its embassy and vise versa. Note that the destination, an embassy, also has official diplomatic immunity. So a diplomatic bag is essentially in immune communication channel between two immune territories.

The goods on the Gupta plane were headed fro a private wedding venue which has absolutely no diplomatic immunity. In any case, there are no reports that they were marked by the Indian government as diplomatic pouch.

They should have been subject to normal customs procedures. If the Indian High Commision had a hand in organizing their importation it should have made sure they were clearly marked as a diplomatic bag and should have ferried these goods to its official premises. If it didn't it essentially aided and abated a smuggling operation.

Some countries allow goods intended for the personal use of diplomats or for charitable use to be exempt from duties. Although exempt from duties, such goods are subject to examination by customs officials - unlike the diplomatic pouch which is not.
Most countries require that such goods be re-exported when the user leaves the country, or be used only for charitable purposes for their useful life or for a set period of time.

If the user wishes to hand over the goods to a local resident, requisite duties and taxes such as VAT then need to be paid. As a result goods intended for duty exemption under diplomatic conventions are inventoried and valued in detail at the time they are imported.

Some goods such as cars may have notes attached to their registration papers clearly indicating that they can not be passed on to residents and other non-exempt entities. Some may have their serial numbers noted and kept in a register to aid later investigations if necessary.

Note that duty exempt goods are different from goods in the diplomatic pouch. The goods in the diplomatic pouch normally do not leave the diplomatically immune premises of the embassy.

It is important to note that goods not intended for personal or charitable use such as gifts, are normally required to have appropriate duties paid even if imported by a diplomatically duty exempt person or entity.

With goods intended for charity, normally the end use charitable organisation should be registered as such and applies for its own exemptions. You cannot donate a Breitling watch to the Ratanang Family Trust for Julius Malema's use and call it a charitable donation. Nor should anyone claiming to a be a diplomat be able to donate say a diamond encrusted, gold lined microwave oven to a Gupta maiden on her wedding.

I am not claiming that anything like that happened. However neither can anyone conclusively claim that it did not happen because, according to newspaper reports, SARS did not examine and inventory the goods carried on the Gupta plane.
As part of protocol, customs officers normally do not bother with trivial things such as examining the personal luggage of diplomats. However if the personal luggage is in the form of five truckloads, it is not a trivial quantity and will normally be examined and appropriate inventories made.

Some of these protocols are not based on any legally binding conventions but on the trust and good faith that diplomats are honest.

Needless to say the protocols and gentlemen's understandings have been abused. Last year 40kg of cocaine were found in an official diplomatic pouch sent from Ecuador to Italy. In the same year a shipment marked as a diplomatic pouch contained 16kg of cocaine. It was only discovered because the syndicate apparently failed to intercept it and it actually ended up in the mail room of the United Nations headquarters in New York.

During the Falklands war Argentina send limpet mines, by diplomatic bag, to their embassy in Spain intending to blow up British battle ships docked at Gibraltar. The plot was uncovered and once the limpet mines left the embassy they were seized by police because they were no longer on immune territory, nor in a diplomatic bag.

Some countries like Israel and Nigeria have used or attempted to use the diplomatic pouch to smuggle kidnapped people out of other countries.

In recent years, only the hard nosed Zimbabweans are known to have seized, opened and examined - without prior consent - the officially marked diplomatic pouch of the British embassy in Harare.

It appears to me that the behaviour of the Gupta family in this case is typical of kleptocracies where politically well connected generally behave as if they are exempt from the law, and normal bureaucratic channels.

In a country with a very vibrant and vocal press like South Africa, kleptocratic behaviour is always a magnet for negative attention. The negative attention, like a plague will affect the host organisation, as much as it does those parasitically feeding on it.

If such negative attention continues for the ANC, Jesus might just come too soon for their liking.

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