Compromising friendship

2011-03-05 12:38

Explaining how he protects his integrity, a minister says this: “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I don’t have many friends.” President Jacob ­Zuma does not smoke, does not drink but he has many friends.

His jovial and social demeanour is what made him president and possibly explains his ­extensive ­network of friendships across the boundaries of race, age, class and nations. It’s great.

But part of the reason the president now faces an unprecedented wall of opposition to his friendship with the Gupta family, previously of Saharanpur in India, now of Saxonwold in Johannesburg, is that a friendship has morphed into networks of ­influence and patronage that are benefiting both the first family and naturalised entrepreneurs.

Now the Gupta family may well argue that they don’t do business with the state.

This is to all intents and purposes true, but by cultivating networks of ­influence with Cabinet ministers – all explained as the culture of hospitality – it’s clear that the family uses ­diplomatic and political circles to grow its empire.

As the president well knows from the judgment against another one of his friends, Schabir Shaik, ­mutually ­beneficial relationships can be your political ­undoing.

He should untie his family from the Gupta empire and tell his ministers that government is run from the ­Union Buildings, not from Saxonwold.

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