‘Indian cabal’ narrative is to protect the looting project

Pravin Gordhan is being subjected to a range of attacks, some of them completely racist, personalised and inaccurate. Picture: Edrea Du Toit
Pravin Gordhan is being subjected to a range of attacks, some of them completely racist, personalised and inaccurate. Picture: Edrea Du Toit

The resurrection of the ‘Indian cabal’ narrative is to protect the looting project, writes Nomboniso Gasa

If ever there is any articulation of the “ticket” behind President Cyril Ramaphosa, it is anti-corruption.

At the centre of that ticket is the recovery of assets that have been defrauded from the state; restoration of the integrity of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and institutions; prosecution of people who looted; and prevention of further looting. It is the ticket to create a renewed basis for development and transformation. 

One of the key institutions hollowed out and severely affected by the Jacob Zuma era was the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

Ramaphosa set up the Nugent Commission of Inquiry to examine the wellbeing of Sars.

With that is the Bham Commission concerned with disciplinary action against the former Sars commissioner, Tom Moyane, and then there is the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

The Nugent Commission is hotly contested, with Zuma-ites and people opposed to state capture forming fierce and often unacknowledged alliances.

Moyane, who is in direct confrontation with Ramaphosa, has approached the courts to challenge the president’s authority to act on Nugent’s recommendations to dismiss him.

By virtue of his previous positions as Sars commissioner and as finance minister, Pravin Gordhan has been on the frontline of the fight against those who pillaged the state.

He gave evidence at the Nugent commission and deposed a 69-page affidavit in the Bham commission.

He is scheduled to appear at the Zondo commission on Monday.

His roles in these processes have evoked fierce attacks from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Moyane and others.

People who stand to lose or have lost their positions as executives and/or members of boards of SOEs have launched their own missiles against Gordhan.

Not even the most naive expected the post-Zuma clean-up to be easy or without controversy.

Political realignment between those fingered in grand corruption and those who want to continue with the status quo was not unexpected.

What is surprising is the muted voice of the ANC. It has not made a political rationale in support of this process.

With the exception of comments here and there, the ANC has not made a political case for unfolding inquiries and preventing further looting.

Corruption is political with real political consequences in society. The ANC’s depoliticising of corruption, recovery of public funds and restoration of public institutions has created the impression that these are personal projects of the president and a few ministers.

If the ANC claims to stand for an emancipatory and transformatory programme, that transformation depends on the recovery of resources and the prevention of diversion of future resources through pillaging of the state.

This means people without water, without electricity, without housing, without healthcare will continue to suffer unless the serious work of reversal and prevention of corruption is done.

“Drive the thieves out of government and state institutions” ought to be the slogan that is articulated not just by Ramaphosa, not just by Gordhan and a few others.

It should be an overwhelming hegemonic discourse of the ANC.

There is a need to give personal and political support to whomever range themselves against the thieves. That would be leadership!

Instead, Gordhan is subjected to a range of attacks, some of them completely racist, personalised or inaccurate.

Some of these attacks have relied heavily on South Africa’s race politics, distorting the history of the ANC, the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), especially in the 1980s, and the so-called cabal.

Gordhan, the Indian cabal and the dominance of Indians in the 1980s

Successful liberation movements understood the structural construction of a society they sought to change and developed ways of using those hierarchies and structural configurations of such society against the state.

Apartheid established hierarchies. South Africans of Indian descent were below white people, followed by people of coloured descent and at the bottom were Africans.

These hierarchies did not mean that people called Indians and coloureds were not oppressed, they were.

However, it meant they were exempted from some of the indignities and oppressive practices, such as carrying the “dompas”.

In some cases, they also benefited from laws that were not of their making, such as the “jobs reservation act” which benefited coloured people, for example.

Indians were able to have economic power and operate within an infrastructure far better than that of Africans.

When the apartheid government banned people’s organisations in the early 1960s, the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses were not banned.

As a result, Gordhan and many others who are often named as part of the cabal, rose through the ranks of the Indian Congresses in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yes, Indians had access to resources and very often these were put in the service of the liberation movement.

The infrastructure to which Indian activists had access was extremely strategic, helped advance the political underground and saved many lives.

It is true that it was easier to transfer money through Indian comrades than Africans. They had access to cash to which most Africans did not.

Indian businesses often helped shift funds and, at times, paid in advance for funds that would come from outside the country.

The cabal narrative has relied heavily on the report of the “Cabal commission”.

Full treatment of this commission is not possible here. However, it is important to recognise the resentments and, yes, personality clashes and competition between activists in the 1980s.

Equally, the factions in the ANC in exile spilt over into underground operatives and activists in the country. This is normal in any liberation movement.

What is regrettable is the distortion of these realities and the abuse of this information to suit personal agendas today.

For example, a number of African activists are named as people who subjugated themselves in the Indian cabal.

In many cases these were brave people whose sense of dignity actually saw them survive the most terrible detentions.

For them to be presented as people without agency is insulting and disregards their personal sacrifices and bravery.

The UDF and the MDM tried to build a culture of nonracialism, African leadership and trust among the oppressed and those who came from the white community, under very difficult times.

The ANC is making a serious error if they think the attacks will end with Gordhan.

This is a political project – actually going well beyond personalities – to undermine any attempts to halt corruption.

It is part of political fight-back but, most importantly, it is a political project that tries to define the future and secure positions for looting in the future.

This is a political project that is going to Ramaphosa’s door.

Those who stand against corruption in the ANC will raise their voices and speak out with the citizens of this country who are tired of manipulation of truth and draining the national fiscus.

There simply is no other way.

Gasa is adjunct professor of public law and a senior research associate at the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town. Gasa’s work focuses on land, politics, gender and cultural issues

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