Corruption, as far as the eye can see

And yet, Douglas Gibson notes, no ANC big fish have ever been caught and punished

Twitter was alive a few days ago with demands that private sector corruption and not only corruption by politicians and officials, should be exposed.  Of course, the Twitterati were dead right.  Wherever there are corrupt dealings one usually finds a private sector businessman colluding with either a politician or a government official. One does the paying and the other twists and abuses the system, to the detriment of the public.

Some people may even wryly remark that the level of corruption in South Africa today is the only public/private partnership that some in this government do well.  Certainly, the level of corruption has reached staggering proportions and former Finance minister, Pravin Gordhan stated that the Gupta leaks documents confirm the hitherto only guessed at extent of corruption in the public and private spheres.

Not all corruption, improper or unprofessional conduct, “ignoring red flags” or involvement in activities that allow corrupt individuals and companies to flourish will end in imprisonment.  But there must surely be consequences for those who are found out.  Apart from the public of our country who are having their finances looted, abused and diverted for the enrichment of some highly placed individuals, very few really suffer appropriate consequences.

In decades, the only politician of consequence to pay the price for misdeeds, was former chief whip Tony Yengeni and his punishment was really for lying to parliament rather than for accepting a massive unearned discount on a motor vehicle, to sweeten him up in regard to the arms deal. 

Who else has been jailed?  Schabir Shaik was put on trial for fraud and corruption at the Durban High Court from 11 October 2004 before Judge Hilary Squires. Shaik was found guilty on counts of corruption and fraud, with Judge Squires stating in his 165-page verdict that there was "overwhelming" evidence of a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Jacob Zuma, deputy president of South Africa. Shaik served only two years of his fifteen-year jail term, being released on medical parole because he was at death’s door. He seems the picture of health today, a decade or more later.

President Mbeki did the correct thing in dismissing Jacob Zuma as deputy president but he paid a bitter price later when the other half of the Shaik corrupt relationship became a cause celebre in the ANC, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party.  They and others like them, including ANCY leader Julius Malema, sensing the enormous gravy train that they could board, converted Jacob Zuma into an unstoppable Tsunami and made him the president of South Africa.  

President Zuma’s backers did not recognise that promoting a man against whom there were 783 criminal charges, was to signal that integrity did not matter in the ANC.  In voting Jacob Zuma into power, the majority of voters signalled that they too did not care much about honesty.  No one ought to be surprised that corruption has exploded under this man and those who kept quiet year after year in his party and cabinet, knowing what was going on, bear a large amount of blame.

I well remember that in the run-up to the Polokwane conference an ANC member, close to me, discounted my statement that he had lost his moral compass in supporting Zuma as leader.  His response was that “JZ is such a nice man.”  Ja well, no fine.

It is almost unbelievable that the evil Gupta sickness that has been inflicted on our country by the president and his family was connived at by a number of members of the cabinet and many officials, all of whom have benefited in some way or another, either by being bribed with money or position.  None of them has been arrested.  No-one has been charged. No-one has been jailed.

Now one learns from the Sunday Times that in addition to the existing Guptas who were last week conniving at having the CEO of the Public Investment Corporation(PIC) replaced by someone more to their taste, there are now some “new Guptas”: Gayton McKenzie and Kenny Kunene, new best friends of the president.

The pair, described by the Sunday Times as “jail-birds” were reported to have such influence over the president that they can nominate a replacement for the vacant post of deputy minister of higher education. They were introduced to the Russians by our minister of state security, David Mahlobo and a delegation from the Central Energy Fund as acceptable BEE partners in a R5billion gas deal.

Minister Mahlobo, himself deeply compromised as a result of his consorting with undesirable persons, placed the prestige of his office and our country at the disposal of McKenzie and Kunene, actually pretending that their participation in the project will in some miraculous way advance black economic empowerment. What must the Russians think of us?  They know these deals when they see them and contemptuous smiles and knowing looks will accompany their playing along with “empowerment” like this.

At least in the private sector the consequences of being caught out are unfolding.  Bell-Pottinger is all but insolvent and is in Receivership and KPMG, one of the top four accounting firms in the world, with an impeccable reputation, is paying an immense price in public esteem while firing partners and paying huge compensation. 

What of the Guptas? What of the ministers they bribed? What of the officials they suborned? What of their best friend, our president?  When will he get his day in court?  I once thought it in the interests of South Africa if Jacob Zuma was given a pardon.  I have changed my mind.  Nothing will restore some semblance of regard for the Rule of Law, for morality and for public integrity as seeing Zuma serving a long term behind bars, preferably with some of his “best friends.”

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.

This article first appeared in The Star.