How much is a minister worth?

 Mcebisi Jonas
Mcebisi Jonas

Mcebisi Jonas told us, under oath, that he refused a R600 million Gupta bribe to become finance minister. This, writes Solani Ngobeni, begs the question: How much money was shelled out to those who were willing to be inveigled by the Guptas?

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture continues to shed more light on what former minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi has termed “the age of madness”.

I suspect Ramatlhodi might have thought he was breaking new ground through his revelations.

Unfortunately for most of us ordinary South Africans, this has been our lot for the past 10 years.

So, all we can say is: “Welcome to our world.”

In light of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas’ testimony that he was offered an inducement for the post of finance minister, we, as a nation, need to have a discussion on how much a minister was worth during the Jacob Zuma years.

Better still, let us discuss how much a minister is worth today. At least in the case of Jonas, we know that he turned down the offer.

It needs to be stated unequivocally, however, that as current and former ANC Cabinet ministers continue to testify at the commission, one cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu; that – as stated above – these are nothing more than insiders’ perspectives of what South Africans have been living through for the past 10 years.

And, lest we forget, this nightmare was signed, sealed and delivered by the ANC.

So, while the likes of Jonas might have turned down such inducements, there are those who were willing to accept ministerial positions in former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet.

Thanks to a host of revelations made by those in the media – from reports of the leaked Gupta emails to published books and online reports – we now know that there are ministers who were directly appointed by the Guptas, or whose appointments were at least sanctioned by them, and that said ministers were willing to do the Guptas’ bidding.

Now that South Africans are privy to these facts, the following question arises: With regard to those who were willing to be inveigled by the Guptas, how much were they paid?

And furthermore, for how much were they willing to commit treason, despite their protestations to the contrary today?

Last week, ANC stalwart and former SAA deputy chair Cheryl Carolus testified before the Zondo commission about the conduct of one Malusi Gigaba.

Carolus asked a poignant question about how a young man who had shown such promise could have ended up compromising himself.

She is convinced that he played an influential part in many of the shenanigans that took place in our state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

We need to ask how it is that some of our fellow South Africans were willing to sell their souls for a checked suit and a pair of shoes.

Sadly, the story of Gigaba serves as a metaphor for how disheartening it is to see how the so-called young lions of the post-apartheid dispensation have fallen prey to conspicuous consumption, a photo opportunity in the society pages and greed.

The pilfering of our national resources for consumption by the few has resulted in a situation where many are now rightly or wrongly likening the ANC to nothing but a criminal enterprise.

Whenever the ANC converges, such a gathering is being compared to a “crime scene” or just another planning session for the next heist.

This gives rise to more questions: Are discussions taking place mainly about where to undertake this next heist? Is it a retreat to conceptualise such a heist “Italian Job”-style? Or, is it about which tenders must be given to whom and on what terms?

It would appear that when an SOE post becomes vacant, it is linked to an incumbent who commits to being pliant as far as kickbacks go.

So, the time has come for us to have a serious conversation.

The Zuma years have wrought numerous casualties and ruined many careers in South Africa’s sociopolitical sphere.

Brian Molefe, Matshela Koko and Anoj Singh are just a few of the many names that have gained notoriety.

Many such executives were once erudite – one would have expected a lot more probity from them.

What we need to ask, as a society, is: What was the price paid to commit treason during the Zuma years?

For how many pieces of silver were people willing to sacrifice their careers and good names – and, in one case, just four days of infamy?

It is now mainly the poor who are picking up the pieces – through the increase in VAT and the state’s continual dishing out of bailouts to Eskom and SAA.

It adds insult to injury when one considers the fact that many of the poor will die having never set foot on a plane, and when they are now forced to resort to candlelight once more in the wake of Eskom’s load shedding.

We will all be paying more for electricity because those who we voted for enabled three men to siphon billions of rands out of the country in return for a stay at The Oberoi Hotel in Dubai and a three-piece suit or two.

At best, the acquiescence by our appointed officials was the height of stupidity; at worst, it was treasonous.

That three young men from India could so nonchalantly get our officials in government to abrogate responsibility and could award themselves executive powers to hire and fire ministers should rank as the lowest point in the history of humankind.

We should all hang our heads in shame as the world watches our Zondo commission probe how a country was stolen from right under our noses by three Indian men.

It is nauseating how easily and willingly some of our compatriots handed over the nation’s fiscus. Their acquiescence beggars belief. Again, the same question arises: How much was a minister worth?

The Guptas were not holding a gun over anyone’s head – hence the need for a national conversation about how we were so complicit and how such a phenomenon can never be allowed to recur.

Our country will forever be used as a case study on how not to auction executive authority to a family, be they immigrants or South African citizens.

Ngobeni is an academic publisher. He was the South African finalist in the 2007 International Young Publisher of the Year Award

How much do you think the Guptas offered Cabinet ministers to do their bidding?

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