SOUTH Africans seem to be divided roughly into two main camps when it comes to their views on corruption. On the one hand, there are those who are totally angered by Zupta-driven state capture and general corruption in various levels of government and the public sector.
On the other hand, the focus and fascination of others seem to be more absorbed by the growing number of reports of corruption emanating from the private sector. Those who see the two forms of corruption for what they are seem to make a smaller group straddling both sides. The political, even racial, undertones go deep.
Defenders of the Zuptas have always done so, in part, by pointing to white collar crimes, claiming state capture-like practices have happened during apartheid and using every straw they can clutch at to minimise the negative impact of Zupta-linked state capture and corruption.
To them, those who focus only on post-apartheid and ongoing state capture as well as corruption in the public sector must be racist if they are white, or self-hating and baas-fearing if they’re black.
They argue that apartheid era crimes must first be fully investigated and perpetrators identified and prosecuted before the Zuptas can be touched. In their view, apartheid era criminals are the source of the current day rot our country has been plunged into, primarily by the Zuptas.
It is unclear how they link the two.
Zuptas 'just former victims of apartheid'
The Zuptas, some have brazenly argued, are just former victims of apartheid who are being hated for having had the guts to come out and disrupt an old, white monopoly capital-dominated economic system.
Sadly, this argument is often propagated by people who should know that the little that the Guptas – clearly the biggest beneficiaries of the Zupta crime syndicate – know of apartheid would have been limited to TV and newspaper reports in Saharanpur, a little town situated some 200km north of New Delhi, India’s capital city.
The plight of the millions who continue to survive on government handouts in the form of grants, still waiting for their place under the post-apartheid sun, means nothing to them.
Their obstinate and opportunistic focus on what happened during apartheid is tantamount to insisting that our limited resources be spent on exploring the great seas to find a ship that sank decades ago in order to bring back to the surface whatever secrets it took down with it.
And all this should happen while the mother ship on which we’re all sailing, and to which our collective fortunes are committed, is busy taking in huge quantities of water and going down into the belly of the ocean. To them, all else should wait.
A friend sent me the following:
What is the difference between an ordinary thief and a political thief?
1. The ordinary thief steals your money, bag, watch, gold chain; the political thief kills all the hope you have by stealing your future, career, education, health, and business.
2. The ordinary thief will choose who to rob; you choose the political thief who robs you.
3. The police will chase after the ordinary thief while they look after and protect the political thief, for the political thief also controls the police.
Private sector corruption
The dramatic collapse of Steinhoff is a huge event with ramifications that will reach far and wide. Hundreds – perhaps even hundreds of thousands - of government employees whose pension funds have been exposed to the company’s stocks, as well as other private and institutional investors, will be left the poorer by what happened.
Steinhoff might be the biggest private sector collapse but, reputationally speaking, it comes soon after the exposure of Bell Pottinger, KPMG, SAP, and all the Zupta-linked private businesses with big paws in the public sector cookie jar.
Deloitte, Steinhoff’s main auditors, might also want to consider coming out with everything they know before potential embarrassing stuff, if any, gets leaked by disgruntled insiders or dragged into the open by investigators.
The company has to choose whether it will be remembered as another case of an auditing firm only deciding to walk away from the corruption it enabled when it’s too late – like KPMG did – or one that learned from mistakes made by others and acted to protect the integrity of the auditing profession when it needed it most.
German authorities were swift in deciding to investigate developments at Steinhoff. South African authorities should do the same without fear or favour, as soon as the ineffectual Shaun Abrahams is removed from his highly paid position of national director of public prosecutions and replaced with a more credible professional armed with the requisite qualifications, experience, and ethical wherewithal.
In line with the court’s ruling, such a replacement must not be appointed by the conflicted Jacob Zuma, the common denominator in the mess our country finds itself in.
One thing is clear, however; while private sector corruption steals primarily from company shareholders, public sector corruption steals from all of us, especially the poorest of the poor.
No matter how far its ramifications go, the Steinhoff collapse will not do to South Africa what Zupta-led state capture and public sector corruption have, together, done to our country.
The latter have systematically diverted funds specifically allocated for service delivery for the people of South Africa into their own private bank accounts, here and offshore. It is a direct crime against the interests of South Africa that should not go unpunished.
Any claim that what happened with Steinhoff eclipses the economic, social, and reputational effects of the Zupta-led state capture on South Africa’s fortunes is political opportunism of the worst kind.
Nevertheless, the law must act on all corruption, irrespective of its origin.
- Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.