State Capture and the Africanisation of the Broederbond

Gwen Ngwenya writes on the similarities and parallels between the pursuit of Afrikaner and ANC hegemony

This essay attempts to examine the parallels and similarities between state capture and the Afrikaner Broederbond. It concludes that what we have seen since 1994 and under the ANC is the Africanisation of the Broederbond, with consequences for how we understand current events as part of a larger national dialogue.

1. The psychology that brought it to bear.

The psychological impulse or trauma which has been the undercurrent and motive force of Afrikaner and African politics in South Africa is markedly similar. A shared sense of injustice, one at the hands of the British and the other at the hands of both the British and the Afrikaner. An injustice which was jointly characterized by the demotion of their respective people from owners of land to labourers, economic exclusion, and not to mention the cultural and linguistic humiliation suffered.

The founding fathers of the Broederbond and the ANC were committed to restoring the dignity of the Afrikaner and the African alike. Both animated not just by the political emancipation of their people but by their economic emancipation too, and the restoration of a cultural and national pride- naturally with a central organization as the vanguard of this project. Such an overarching project thus required a ‘cadre’ or ‘broeder’ strategically positioned within all centres of power. What could go wrong?

Verwoerd is recorded as having said: “Broeders, the Afrikaner Broederbond must gain control of anything it can lay its hands on in every walk of life in South Africa. Members must help each other to gain promotion in the civil service or any other field of activity in which they work with a view to securing important administrative positions.”[1]

It is important to note that state capture was ingrained into how the ANC and the Broederbond sought to answer the national question (although the latter may not have used this term, arising as it does from socialist doctrine). The national question being how to bring their respective people out of the position of being subjugated by a dominant power and class. It is not an accident.

The report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture (Zondo report) exposes the eagerness of some in the ANC to promote the idea of state capture as an aberration ushered in by the Zuma administration.

In his testimony Minister Pravin Gordhan pinpoints 2011 as the time when “the first interventions began to take place into State-owned entities.” And that it was only from 2017 that he understood what was happening and to really ‘join the dots.’ Pull the other one. The narrative of the ‘nine wasted years’ is also now used comfortably as a fait accompli by journalists, analysts, and even by some in the political opposition.

This has become the line even though the underpinnings of state capture are well recorded. The ANC’s Strategy and Tactics (1997) document is explicit, as are other documents which precede and come after it, about “a cadre policy ensuring that the ANC plays a leading role in all centres of power.”[2]

Furthermore, that “In all centres of power, particularly in parliament and the executive, ANC representatives must fulfil the mandate of the organisation. They should account to the ANC and seek its broad guidance. As a matter of political principle, and in our structures and our style of operation, we proceed always from the premise that there is one ANC, irrespective of the many and varied sectors in which cadres are deployed.”

And they are varied indeed as the Cadre Policy and Deployment Strategy document shows. It expresses that the extension of ANC hegemony over civil society was a goal of the Cadre Policy. It stated that the ANC must “strengthen our leadership in all other sectors of social activity [outside of the state] including:- the economy; education, science and technology; sports, recreation, arts and culture; mass popular organisation; and, mass communication.”

Lastly, party members were aware of the early successes of this endeavour. This is best exemplified by the words of Pallo Jordaan, again in 1997 writing on the national question ahead of the ANC’s 50th national congress:

Since 1994 the multi-class character ANC itself is undergoing transformation. Whereas in the past there were no captains of industry in the leading organs of the ANC; today at least one NEC member heads one of the largest conglomerates trading on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This corporation, moreover, employs thousands of other ANC members as well as ANC supporters! Prior to 1994 Transnet, one of the biggest state-owned corporations which employs thousands of ANC supporters and members organised in SARHWU, was headed by one Johan Maree. Today its MD is a member of the NEC.[3]

2.       The modus operandi of the broederbond vs ANC-led state capture

In the book Super-Afrikaners, written by Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom, the key revelations into the Broederbond revealed, among other things:

- A society whose decisions make national policy

- The systematic plotting to place its members in key positions in the government, the military, and the police

- The vast network of Broederbond lecturers, university presidents and teachers who mould successive generations into zealous and faithful supporters of Nationalist philosophy.

- The illegal links between the government and Broederbond-run industries

A reading of Part 1 of the Zondo report strikes a similar chord. The report corroborates[4] the following:

- Collusion between the ANC, the executive, and private industry.

- How unelected persons directed policy and executive action.

- The positioning of people into strategic positions across a variety of public entities, and the bending of those institutions to their agenda.

On the matter of intellectual leadership or the universities. It is not the subject of the Zondo report but there is much to be said about ANC aligned lecturers, university presidents and teachers who have helped to mould successive generations in the thinking of the ANC. This danger to independent thinking in the academy was expressed with incredible foresight by Prof. Belinda Bozzoli in her address in 1993 at the launch of the new Honours/MA course at the University of the Witwatersrand. It was an early caution to academia on bending to a new hegemony.

“Certainly our outgoing government regarded the products of the independent universities as part of what had to be destroyed. And the desperate needs of the struggle against apartheid drew many intellectuals into direct alliances with political movements, encouraging the existing present-minded pragmatism and making it morally difficult for the idea of an independent intellectual class to be defended.”

3.  The inevitable departure from restoring the dignity of a people to enrichment of the few

In September 1970 Barend Venter, editor of Die Nataller, wrote an article in which he had the following to say:

“It is feared that members of the Broederbond who sit on public bodies hold private discussions and are thus not able to take their seats totally unbiased, especially in those places where it is in the public interest for them to do so.”

“It is also feared that authority and discipline are being undermined in the city councils, semi-State bodies and in the private sector, by members of the Broederbond who choose to maintain contact with each other rather than follow the correct channels. Coupled with this is the fear that Broederbonders misuse their positions to give jobs to fellow members.”

This illustrates the frustration of the clandestine and elite nature of the Broederbond and the promotion of those close to it. Dirk Richard, editor of Dagbreek en Sondagnuus, would write in the same month as Venter: “Why are we not good enough for the volk?” “Are only the Broeders the cream of the volk?”

The feeling that the Broederbond served narrow interests echoes critique of the ANC, whose takeover of institutions and its policy of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment have weakened the majority while strengthening a new narrow elite.

4.  The role of business

The constant is the involvement of business. Which answers the question whether business, for the most part, leans left or right? Neither, it leans in the direction of power. It is a farce therefore to imagine the ANC engaged in a battle against capital for the benefit of the exploited, a premise which forms the basis of much governing party propaganda.

Instead our democracy is best understood as defined by a collusive relationship between the governing party and significant elements of capital at the expense of the entrepreneurial, working-class, and non-working-class majority. I eschew the tradition of including those not in work as part of the working class due to the patent disinterest of worker’s unions in South Africa to their plight, and furthermore on the recognition that so many out of work are no longer seeking work and therefore not part of the labour force. Thus, they represent a large group which is ever-present but seldom heard.


In conclusion I think there are at least three lessons from all this.

1. State capture and the ideas which underpin it predate Jacob Zuma. It is a mistake to perpetuate the narrative of the ‘nine wasted years’ as though the Jacob Zuma years were an aberration. Instead it is to be read within a broader context of how the ANC sought to answer the national question, i.e. the empowerment of black Africans in particular.

2. The need to approach the prosperity of all South Africans in a manner which does not entail a singular formation dominating all spheres of public and private life and fashioning them to its own image. This model in the end collapses under the weight of its own hubris. No one movement, party, or organization has the answers to all South Africa’s challenges and should be placed at the masthead in every sphere.

3.  South Africa still has a juvenile understanding of the relationship between capital and politics, i.e. supposedly the so-called left is working against capital, and the so-called right is buttressing it. There is far more money on the left than there is on the economic right side of politics- why is a discussion for another time. But the focus should not be anti-business rhetoric and policies, but to diminish the ability of politicians, governments, and unelected sponsors to collude.

It is one thing to end the deployment of party office bearers but much of state capture occurred without a formal deployment of a card-carrying member. It may be time for South Africa to explore, i.e. considering what works and what does not, the lobbying regulations of the US and EU, which would have made it more difficult, but not impossible, for Jacob Zuma to meet almost once every 6 weeks over a period of two years with Vittorio Massone of Bain Capital without raising eyebrows as to the nature of the relationship.

The idea of the Africanisation of the Broederbond will irk a great many on different sides; some will be irked because whatever has gone wrong with the ANC it is not as bad as the Broederbond, and yet others will be irked because it is preposterous to suggest that the ANC is anywhere near as good or achieved as much for its people.

There are important differences between how powerful Afrikaners, whose members overlapped but went beyond the National Party in the Broederbond’s thirty golden years between 1948 and 1978, attempted to take control of strategic levers of power, and the near-thirty golden years of a powerful elite since 1994 linked to the ANC. However, I do not need to spell these differences out as the irked will do that job well enough. Far more interesting are the similarities which are significant.


[1] J.H.P Serfontein. Brotherhood of power. Rex Collings (1979). Pg 126

[2] https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/anc/1997/strategy-tactics.htm

[3] https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/anc/1997/national-question.htm

[4] A word I prefer to ‘revealing’ since there are new facts but not many new insights. The Commission will lend credence to what many have long known and described as the modus operandi of the ANC.