ANALYSIS: The Guptas are plotting to capture SA all over again
Looking back at the state capture probe, it’s clear the Guptas think they can dupe us back into their clutches
You have to give credit to the Guptas for their ability to play South Africans and get away with it.
In an interview with the New York Times published in October, Ajay Gupta did not discount the possibility that he might still testify at the Zondo Commission.
“I’m not saying that I’m not coming to the commission,” Gupta said from the family’s new base in Dubai. “I will, but not this moment.”
“I want to clear my name,” he said – a variation of former president Jacob Zuma’s “I want my day in court” mantra.
His lawyer, Mike Hellens, had told justice Raymond Zondo the Guptas would not expose themselves to the “incompetence” of the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) by returning to testify at the state capture inquiry.
Hellens said his clients believed the Hawks and the NPA were “recklessly incompetent and a national embarrassment”.
Apart from the fact that the Guptas had enjoyed special protection from these two agencies, and were in essence audaciously requesting preferential treatment from the commission to testify outside SA’s borders, they were also displaying contempt for the criminal justice system.
During the inquiry, several witnesses testified about the disdain displayed by the Guptas for the country’s leaders and institutions.
Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor testified about how Ajay Gupta showed no respect for Zuma. Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas related how the Guptas told him “you must understand that we are in control of everything”, including the NPA, Hawks and intelligence services, and also said: “The old man will do anything we tell him to do.”
Former minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi spoke of how the breach of Waterkloof air force base was “the final insult” to SA’s sovereignty and how the Guptas used their political connections and leverage to “show off”.
Former government spokesperson Themba Maseko testified how Ajay Gupta tried to strongarm him to direct government’s advertising budget to their media entities and said if any department or minister tried to inhibit that, he would “deal with them directly”. Former national treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile, his successor Dondo Mogajane and former communications head in the department Phumza Macanda explained how Gupta-appointed ministerial adviser Mohamed Bobat made illegal demands on officials and pulled Des van Rooyen’s strings during his brief stint as finance minister.
There is a common thread in the testimony of all these witnesses.
The Guptas were contemptuous of SA, its laws, its finances, its institutions, its elected leaders and its people.
Their state capture project was built on the best models of systemic corruption in the world, and they were able to commandeer control of key government departments and entities without much push-back.
Another key element of evidence presented since public hearings began in August is the complicity of the former president in state capture.
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan testified about Zuma’s personal involvement in trying to ram through the nuclear deal, even though he was repeatedly advised by the treasury that it was not affordable and would effectively bankrupt the country.
Nene and Gordhan also testified how Zuma had instructed them to issue a guarantee for PetroSA’s purchase of Engen – a deal that made no financial sense and was bound to feed a corrupt network.
Barbara Hogan, former public enterprises minister, testified how Zuma tried to force her to appoint Siyabonga Gama as the Transnet CEO, even though he was facing disciplinary proceedings and against the recommendation of the board. Hogan also said Zuma had tried to usurp her executive authority by interfering in the conflict between the CEO and the board of Eskom.
Zuma has so far not made any attempt to respond to evidence or cross-examine the witnesses. He was, however, asked by Zondo to respond to Mentor and Maseko’s evidence after he told students at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha that state capture was just a “politically decorated expression”.
“There is no state capture in South Africa. There are people who did things to others, but there is no such thing called state capture. Let us not swallow everything that is given to us.”
This, too, is derisive of a judicial process. Considering the serious evidence presented to the commission, it would be incumbent on the person in charge of the state when these events took place to explain what happened and respond to the allegations.
But Zuma, like the Guptas, knows there will be no way he could give testimony without compromising himself. For as long as he does not have to face up to the evidence, Zuma can continue to ask: “What have I done?”
The Guptas are also playing the victim of a witch hunt while they evade testimony.
“Was Ajay Gupta or Gupta family proven guilty? One place? One smallest thing?” Gupta asked in his interview with the New York Times.
This is technically true, but Gupta conveniently did not mention they were effective fugitives from the law.
They did, however, have the temerity to want to cross-examine witnesses at the commission without being inconvenienced to have to appear themselves.
Out of the 23 witnesses who testified at the inquiry so far, it was only Mzwanele Manyi, the former government communications head, who aligned with Zuma and the Guptas.
When asked by evidence leader Vincent Maleka about the serious claims made against the Guptas, Manyi denied that they had been implicated.
Manyi said he “struggled to find evidence to corroborate the claim” that the Guptas were incriminated.
This supports the Guptas’ strategy to deny culpability in the looting of billions from the state and fob off all the allegations made against them.
As Eskom struggles to meet power supply demands, SAA remains in constant need of bailouts, the SABC nears bankruptcy and the country’s debt levels escalate, South Africans remain charitable to those who created this crisis.
There are no demands for accountability, and instead the Zondo commission is under attack for venturing into the heart of systemic corruption that feeds the political networks.
When Gupta said he would return to the country to clear his name “but not this moment”, it was based on their meticulous plans for a political turnaround and the recapture of the state.
They believe that if South Africans were stupid enough to surrender our country once, we could be duped into doing it again.