Plain old corruption

2016-11-29 06:00

THE term “state capture” is deceptive. The mystique and melodrama camouflage the true nature of the activity infesting the highest echelons of government.

What is happening is straightforward political corruption, which is defined as the use of powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain or illegal acts by an office holder related to their official duties, involving the trading of influence.

If there was any doubt before about how the Gupta family has used their relationship with President Jacob Zuma and members of his Cabinet, the State of Capture report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela presented an overview of how the integrity of the state is being compromised.

The report shows that Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen visited Saxonwold, where the Gupta compound is located, seven times prior to his appointment as Finance minister last December.

Van Rooyen, who tried to block the release of the report, has not provided an explanation of what he was doing there, including on the day before Zuma fired the former Finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, and appointed him.

It would appear that there was quite a lot of activity during Van Rooyen’s four-day stint as Finance minister.

The Sunday Timesreported that his advisers allegedly leaked a confidential government document to associates of the Guptas during that period.

The public protector’s report showed that Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was involved in business negotiations on behalf of the Guptas. It confirmed that Zwane travelled to Zurich, Switzerland, for negotiations between Glencore and Gupta-owned Tegeta. Zuma’s son Duduzane is also a shareholder in the company.

“If Minister Zwane travelled in his official capacity to support Tegeta’s bid to buy the mine his conduct would give Tegeta an unfair advantage over other interested buyers. Further, it is potentially unlawful for the minister to use his official position of authority to unfairly and unduly influence a contract for a friend or in this instance his boss’s son at the expense of the state,” the public protector’s report said.

“This scenario would be further complicated if his actions were sanctioned by the president.”

These allegations are simply the tip of the iceberg in terms of the activities involving the Guptas.

Zuma remained defensive in Parliament this week about his failure to provide Madonsela with answers to her questions about his relationship with the Guptas and his knowledge of all these activities.

The transcript of Madonsela’s interview with Zuma is most insightful about how the president and his legal advisers used all means possible to avoid answering her questions.

Madonsela wanted to know, among other things, the reasons why Nene was fired, whether Zuma did instruct former government spokesperson Themba Maseko to help the Guptas, and whether the president was at the Gupta compound when they offered former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor a ministerial position.

Zuma insisted he was not in the position to respond. When Madonsela asked Zuma about the Guptas’ alleged offer to promote Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, his response was perplexing.

“I mean when the Jonas thing came I did not know I will ever have to answer any questions, because it had nothing to do with me, because people meeting and talking about whatever they talk about and I would have thought the matters get to those people, deal with them and the matter is over, but if I have got to answer the question, I have to have given it a good thought, what does this mean?” Zuma said, according to the transcript.

It is obvious, including from his performance in the National Assembly this week, that the president learnt nothing from the Nkandla fiasco and does not take seriously his constitutional obligation to be accountable.

This farce has gone on long enough. We should stop seeing state capture as a blurry phenomenon.

Political corruption needs to be properly investigated and whoever has compromised the integrity of the state needs to be prosecuted.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

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