In the past week or so South Africans had the opportunity to pour out their indignation on the Guptas. I cannot remember in recent times having read comments on online-publications that were so unanimous in its condemnation of an incident and individuals.
So now I'm just wondering. I mean, how did this thing play out?
Let's start with the request coming from the Guptas to get landing rights at Waterkloof. Their request was denied. Very few succesful business people are renowned for taking no for an answer. No, that's just the opening offer from the other side. If you do not like "no", you make another plan. You try knocking at another door.
So, they knocked at another door. Here they got a positive response, which just confirms that you should not take "no" lying down. Always try your luck again.
Good. So now they have formal confirmation that they may land at Waterkloof, everything fixed up, and, like the seven dwarfs probably would have sung: "hi ho, hi ho, and off to Waterkloof we go."
So how wrong is that on the Gupta's side? OK, I also feel some indignation about this, but that's just because I'm jealous. I know I don't pull enough weight anywhere to pull something like this off. I mean, my neighbour won't even let me park my car in his driveway for a weekend, man! And it is unfair that someone else should be able to get it right. So, yeah, take that, you Guptas!
The officials involved
Right, now let's turn to the other side - there where the decision had been made to mess around with national security and allow the landing at Waterkloof.
Ok, it is interesting to note that when the first answer with the Minister of Defence was "no", the matter was not escalated to someone higher. What is even more interesting is that the next higher port of call would, in fact, have been the honourable president Zuma. He could simply have made a few calls, and Jacob's your uncle.
But no, they seem to have gone lower in the ranks with the next attempt, instead of higher. Now here lies some significance.
You see, suppose now I'm just an ordinary guy working somewhere for the government, minding my own business. Maybe I have a wife and three kids. Maybe I'm not too far off from retirement. Maybe I am totally unemployable outside my current position, be it because of personal incompetence, or some other impediment that would thwart my attempts to get a new job, say, at the Department of Correctional Services. The point is: I'm going to look after my job and not do anything to put it in jeopardy.
Out of the blue I get a call from someone telling me that Mr Gupta asks a little favour from me. My first response would probably be something along the lines of: "O f***, this guy is well connected, don't mess with the Gupta."
Capitalising on perceptions?
I will possibly think about the two policemen who got charged with high treason or something (ok, it was a lesser charge, I just can't remember what it was now) for daring to stop Winnie Mandela's car one evening. And I mean, Winnie is not even half as popular as the president, and she pulls a lot less weight. So can you imagine what can happen to you if you tick off someone who is as close to the president as the Guptas are?
Or take Mr Malema in his heydey. A cop stopping him for speeding suddenly found himself having to explain to his master's voice why he pulled off an imminent citizen such as Mr Malema.
So am I going to take a principled stand and say: "Absolutely not, Mr Gupta, sorry, can't have that in this country."
No, I'm going to do what I consider the best way to just survive my job without getting in the deepest possible poof I can imagine. I'm going to follow the road of least resistance, learning from the mistakes of others who did not toe the line of the politically connected.
And what is more, nobody even needs to hint to me that mmmm..... maybe you should rather humour this guy, he's mos got connections, you know. I will sommer know that by simply reading the papers.
Point is: the guy making the call need not even hint in the direction of dire consequences for non-compliance with the request. I will assume that automatically.
And now, suddenly I find myself on suspension, under investigation, and on the front page of the papers. Because I did exactly what I thought I need to do to stay OUT of trouble. And, in all fairness, would you have done it differently had you been in those shoes?
Who's the fall guy?
Should steps be taken against those guys who eventually became sucked in in this whole process? I'm not sure that I'm convinced that they should be made to take the fall for something like this.
So where then should the blame lie?
Let's run through it again:
The guys from the Guptas who put in the request took a chance, and it worked. You may not like it, but you can barely say that he did anything criminal. Provided he did not bandy about any threats.
Assuming he did not threaten anyone, but just capitalised on the well known political connectivity of the Guptas, can you fault the guys who then got confronted with the decision and made the call to allow the request?
Can you fault president Jacob Zuma for the fact that someone else maybe capitalised on the relationship that person had with the president? Probably not.
So what's really the problem?
Well, I don't quite know myself. I seem to have painted myself into a corner where I am about to conclude that nobody is to blame for this.
But surely someone or something is to blame.
I'm not privvy to enough information to make an informed call, but my guess would be to say that the root of the problem lies in the very existence and nature of the relationship between the Guptas and the Zumas.
Is it not possibly this cosiness that led to various officials not to consider refusing the request from the Guptas?
But then again, how do you discipline someone for having a mutually beneficial relationship with someone else if you cannot positively say (and identify) any specific form of corruption?
I'm not propagating that this matter be swept under the carpet and that there should be no consequences. I mean, at last even people in government responded to a scandal with a level of appropriateness. Normally they just pretend it never happened and wait for things to blow over. Now at least we have a unanimous conviction that something is wrong, and that some heads must role. Such an opportunity cannot go wasted.
I just fear that the wrong heads might be taking the chop. It's OK if you are a cadre, you will just be redeployed and be awarded some other important job. But suppose you're not?
All I can say is, boet, if you turn out to be the fall guy, may the Guptas be with you.