Quiet diplomacy over Guptas won't deliver Ramaphosa's 'new dawn'

Ajay Gupta and South African businessman Justin van Pletzen. (Justin van Pletzen via Facebook)
Ajay Gupta and South African businessman Justin van Pletzen. (Justin van Pletzen via Facebook)

The Guptas embarrassed South Africa. They turned former freedom fighters, who were willing participants in the scandal, into sellouts who sold the country’s sovereignty for a quick, stolen buck.

The sooner the state capture inquiry begins public hearings, where the grand-scale corruption will hopefully be officially laid bare, the better. And the sooner the state capture prosecutions begin, the better for the integrity of the Republic to be restored.

Before this happens, it is unlikely that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new dawn will yield sunshine. He has, however, brought some hope by amending the regulations governing the inquiry led by Justice Raymond Zondo to ensure evidence brought to it can be used for criminal prosecution.

For his own benefit, former president Jacob Zuma had stealthily created a state capture prosecutorial immunity. But civil society organisations wouldn’t be fooled as they quickly sought a court order to erase the immunity clause. It would have been an affront to the constitutionally enshrined principle of equality before the law. Ramaphosa wouldn’t defend this in court. He saved the Constitutional Court its precious time.

The state capture embarrassment didn’t end with the forced resignation of Zuma, the Gupta puppet-in-chief through whom the executive authority of the South African state was mortgaged, and the financial resources of some provinces stolen. Those whose capacity to be embarrassed was not diminished during the Zuma era would find it shameful that the Republic of South Africa, a modern democratic state with the most advanced economy on the African continent, is unable to bring the Guptas and their associates to justice.

Parliament and the police claim they are looking for the Guptas. The organised crime-busting police unit, the Hawks, have declared them fugitives. But Ajay Gupta was filmed walking carefree in Dubai by a businessman who has since been arrested by Dubai authorities, seemingly for the “crime” of spotting Ajay. Let’s hope South Africans who spot parliamentary oversight fugitive, Dudu Myeni, won’t be arrested. But I digress.

In any normal and proud democratic country, the arrest of citizen Justin van Pletzen would have sparked a huge diplomatic row. South Africa would have issued a stern warning and ultimatum to the Dubai authorities to release Van Pletzen, who door-stopped Ajay. It is ironic that Dubai arrested Van Pletzen within hours of the incident, but South Africa could not arrest Ajay and his associates who have been accused of committing several crimes against the people of South Africa over a long period.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu did well by loudly condemning the Australian home affairs minister who hurled insults at South Africa by suggesting we were not civilised. Sisulu reaped rewards for her assertive diplomacy when she got the Australian government to issue a public apology in the press. Even if the Australians had not backed down, South Africans would be comfortable that they are led by a government that cares about the integrity of their country and is fighting to preserve and enhance it.

In international politics strong action is often required to restore the prestige of a country. Wars can be fought over prestige. Following shameful incidents involving Bell Pottinger, a British public relations firm hired by the Guptas to stoke racial division in the country, South Africa’s image was left to roast. It took the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Peter Hain, a member of the British House of Lords and former anti-apartheid activist, to tackle Bell Pottinger.

The company collapsed after the DA secured adverse rulings against it from UK public relations industry authorities and made noise about it in local and international forums. The result was that not one client who cared about their integrity wanted to have anything to do with Bell Pottinger. The company’s shareholders and executives ran for cover. Bell Pottinger’s collapse was a massive achievement to preserve the integrity of South Africa’s democracy.

For a few months, DA MP Phumzile van Damme came across as the real international relations and cooperation minister representing South Africa’s interests abroad. Hain, on the other hand, was like a true South African diplomat.

It was despicable to witness the sealed lips of Maite Nkoana-Mashabane while South Africa’s image was being pounded, forcing unofficial diplomats like Van Damme and Hain to take up the fight. Of course, Bell Pottinger worked for Nkoana-Mashabane’s ANC faction.

It’s shameful that our government made no contribution to Bell Pottinger’s collapse despite the fact that the company sought to harm South Africa’s domestic interests and frustrate some of its key constitutional principles of nonracialism. The government’s policy of social cohesion, which Bell Pottinger actively sought to undermine, is anchored on the constitutional values of nonracialism. 

Direct and unethical outside interference into our domestic affairs should be met by an immediate and strong response. Sisulu will do well to claw back lost prestige by coming up with assertive diplomatic initiatives that will result in the United Arab Emirates handing over the Guptas to our courts and Parliament.

India, whose authorities are also looking to grill the Guptas for allegedly breaking its tax laws, could join forces with South Africa to enforce the rule of law in both countries. But the South African government, through our chief diplomats Ramaphosa and Sisulu must take the lead. There must be no quiet diplomacy over the Guptas and state capture.

- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
As South Africa faces down the third Covid-19 wave, how are you keeping your family safe ?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Staying at home, isolating and being careful
4% - 1454 votes
Sanitising and wearing masks when we go out
14% - 5687 votes
Going on as usual, we're not afraid of the virus
83% - 33929 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo