State Capture: More Widespread Than We Realize

2016-11-08 14:33

Now that ‘State capture’ (or perhaps even the word capture alone) has become part of the political lexicon, Thuli Madonsela is owed tremendous thanks by South Africans from all walks. Her bravery in the face of potential danger, possible death (there was a time where she was issued bodyguards and secret service agents), tireless work ethic and moral conviction have kept alive most of our patriotic spark. Just as Pravin Gordhan has promised to safeguard our hard earned taxes from being squandered, he too has garnered similar respect.

However, we should not pretend to think South Africa’s case is unique, or simply a plight faced by African and other developing countries. With US elections hinging on the brink of possible collapse for geo-politics across the globe, should Trump be elected, it would be foolish to think him beholden to no-one but himself. The president (whether it be Clinton or Trump) is still accountable to constituencies larger than his/her office. Corporations still lobby a large part of legislation in the lower and upper houses of America’s congress. Other nations are gripped by power politics of a completely different kind. Italy’s recent woes in dealing with Mafia-state relations has led to a whole new can of worms spilling out for media and public consumption.

This year, Sicilian judge Antonino Di Matteo has faced a barrage of threats from both state and mafia men intent on halting his investigation into the early 1990’s bombings which killed two high judges of similar intent in revealing Mafia-state relations. The violence ensuing their deaths effectively held the country ransom and forced the state to negotiate with Palermo crime bosses. Currently, no other judge nor any senior executive member of parliament has offered support, to Antonino (this includes the prime minister). The death threats he’s received have been veritably confirmed as coming from state agents, believed to be in the pockets of the Sicilian Mafia.


The story sounds rather similar when drawn to that of our own outgoing Public Protector (how ironic it should be that, at one stage, she required protection of her own). One would think adoration from a ravenous media fraternity and a discouraged public (over government corruption) has kept her alive thus far. Government or criminal enterprises aside, the issue of corporate influence in South Africa is one which has come to greater fore in recent years. Marikana has been a watershed moment precipitating this trend, where discussions swirled mixes of human rights, natural resources and nationalization fuelling an increasingly nervy middle-class. Political parties are still not required to disclose their funding, so the extent to which they’re controlled, and to whom exactly they’re answerable to, remains a mystery.

While the Guptas have hogged the headlines with their bedding of political hierarchy, quieter space has been created for other business interests to go on exploitary paths. Perhaps this includes buying more favours from a pliable government (so long as money is involved). Perhaps its buying silence from communities or persons aggrieved by corporate policy. Cases like

  • Coca-Cola’s [outsourcing] exploitation of delivery drivers under the pretence of BBBEE
  • Whitey Bason’s effective double salary amounting to R100 million amid poorly paid and treated Shoprite staff
  • BHP Billiton’s rebates after excessive energy usage and coal diversion for its operations in Northern KZN
  • Multi-Choice’s continued legal assault on the state in its attempts maintain a television monopoly (despite the fact South Africa has introduced analogue a few weeks ago)

Are just some examples this year. So if one thinks about state capture more broadly, we can see a number of things

  • This phenomenon exists in many forms and is not exclusive to developing countries, or South Africa alone
  • We should give thanks to a robust and fearless media who, although display some excessive tendencies in their reporting, still play a vital role in exposing malfeasance and informing the public.
  • Established corporations have a greater hold on political and economic life in most countries, however cliché one might think this seems
  • The fact that the PP’s State-Capture report has been released against the interdicts of ministers and the president himself means our democratic institutions are still willing to function as arbiters of justice and social calm (although the National Prosecuting Authority is still questionable in this regard).

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