State capture captured

Jeremy Gordin writes on Ferial Haffajee & Co's encapsulation of the findings of the Zondo commission

So on Sunday night President Cyril Ramaphosa held another of his family meetings, though this time the subject was not Covid-19 but the government’s response to the Zondo commission’s reports on “state capture”.

Lest you didn’t know or hadn’t noticed, I’d best remind you that the State Capture commission indeed found that “state capture” – another name for the gouging of billions of rands from the state and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) – existed in Seffrica. (Please note, however, my use of the past tense – existed – it is a tense to which we shall have to return and ponder.)

Now then, it stands to reason that before discussing Ramaphosa’s Sunday address, I should read the full oeuvre of the Zondo commission.

I think it’s a truth universally acknowledged not only “that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” but that there is very little I would not do for Politicsweb readers. However, having previously read some of the Zondo volumes, I feel that what’s left of my long happy life is probably too short for me to plough through metres and metres of legalistic gunge [i].

So for some minutes we shall digress to what was called, when I studied English lit., “a story within a story,” or in this case a book review within an article. I am talking about Days of Zondo: The Fight for Freedom from Corruption by Ferial Haffajee and (in smaller type) Ivor Chipkin (2022) [ii], published by “Maverick 451” (a division of Daily Maverick).

In my view, this is a first-rate, excellently researched, well-written, and even at times moving, piece of work. Kol hakavod (Hebrew for “All the honour,” “More honour to you,” or simply “Well done”) to Ms. Haffajee. 

She has dealt with “everything” (as far as I can tell) and has, moreover, organised the story remarkably well (“structural editing” is credited to Tanya Pampalone, an erstwhile colleague, I think, or maybe just a friend, of mine).

Haffajee moves from part one, “The Map” (“The locus of capture,” ‘Where the buck stops,” etc.), to “The Mechanism” (“The foundation,” “A case study in corruption,” etc.) and finally to the “The Matrix” (“The corruption of power [Eskom],” Corruption in the air [SAA]”, “The tracks of corruption [Transnet],” etc.).

The “infographics” (credited to Rudi Louw) are also excellent. I note too that “The ANC and corruption timeline” does not lazily start with Zuma, but in 1996 with “Sarafina 2” – which is admirable, though it could in fact have started earlier. As Haffajee notes, “Since it came to power almost three decades ago, the ANC has been embroiled in a major scandal almost every year, a visible symbol of how power corrupts”.

Haffajee has shown that the Zondo commission clearly demonstrated inter alia that “the unholy trinity of corruption in SA is a triangle of the tender system, politicians and politically connected businesspeople, and the funding of the ANC through that system. The ANC stays in power through that system on the one hand, and through the social grant payments system on the other”. In other words, and not to put too fine a point on it, Haffajee clearly reveals (just in case you didn’t know) that the ANC is responsible for destroying this country.

In short, I am impressed by this book [iii]. Additionally, which is important for this article, I’m pretty sure that I now know everything I need to know about the Zondo commission.

Let me then get back to Ramaphosa’s Sunday night report-back. Well, it was very long and his parliamentary response was even longer, so let me see if I can cobble together some sort of rough summary.

Some hard facts appear to be that: there are 89 investigations with 165 accused in court, and the Hawks have achieved 4,500 convictions for corruption and other priority crimes since 2018. Law enforcement agencies have been granted freezing orders worth R12,9-billion, with R2.9-billion recovered and returned to affected entities. The tax collector has got back R4,8-billion in unpaid taxes as a result of the State Capture Commission’s work.

The appointment of boards of SOEs will be made by independent panels with appropriate technical skills, and there will be firm rules banning board members and ministers from playing any part in procurement.

The boss of the NPA will be appointed as per the public proceedings that got Shamila Batohi her job in late 2018 (not that that has seemed to help much, but anyway), and the Investigative Directorate (ID) will become permanent.

But the ID will remain in the NPA, which, as Paul Hoffman remarked recently, places SA in the same position in which it found itself before the Scorpions were dissolved – the ID can easily be removed or dissolved.

Moreover, as the DM’s Marianne Merten has pointed out, much of the President’s speech focused on steps already under way, particularly the prosecution of State Capture-related cases, and legislative reforms such as the Public Procurement Bill that will be before Parliament by March 2023.

Changes to the so-called national anti-corruption architecture began in August this year with the appointment of the national anti-corruption advisory council. But no timeframes were provided for this “comprehensive proposal on an effective and integrated anti-corruption institutional framework”.

Regarding the commission recommendations on the State Security Agency (SSA), Ramaphosa pursued legislative reform through a general laws amendment bill – including splitting the SSA into domestic and foreign entities – which was already meant to have come before Parliament.

All reasonably okay, I suppose, but what about what Ramaphosa left out?

He said nothing about cadre deployment (jobs for pals whatever their level of competence or probity), which the Zondo commission found unconstitutional.

As the DA’s Leon Schreiber has put it: “A president who cared more about South Africa than about his disgraced political party would have abolished this practice because, as the Commission itself confirmed, ‘state capture has been facilitated by the appointment of pliant individuals to powerful positions in state entities’”

Ramaphosa also said nothing about parliamentary oversight and an electoral system in terms of which public representatives in the legislatures are beholden to their parties, rather than voters. But the Zondo commission made clear recommendations about these very matters.

And of course Ramaphosa said zero – nothing, diddly-squat, ngalutho – about what would happen to those august folk in the executive, about whom the commission made findings and recommendations. “The president took no decision, nor did he announce any steps that will make any state capturer lose any sleep,” as Pieter Groenewald of the FF Plus said.

I could bang on, but what’s the point?

It seems to me that the fundamental weakness of the commission’s overall report is that it deals almost entirely with history. To wit, “these are the dastardly things that happened for which prosecution of A and B and C, etc. should be considered”.

But there’s not the slightest inquiry into whether “state capture” continues – which it undoubtedly does. Think about it, if people have been setting about “capturing the state” over a period of ten years (and longer), the place must be brimming with the folk who enabled it to occur.

So Ramaphosa is able to deliver platitudes about supporting prosecution of all the bad people of the past (although we don’t know what’s going to happen to those closest to him in government) – as if that’s the end of the matter.

One of the problems stems – a legal person has suggested to me – from the farming out to a multitude of people the various chapters, and having them mainly summarizing the evidence and identifying some of the perpetrators of past transgressions. What is absent – she argues – is a major chapter pulling it all together, perhaps under the heading “What is State Capture and How Did it Come About?”

But I think Haffajee has done a good job in her book – and has pretty much put together that “chapter”. Notwithstanding her achievement, though, it needs to be remembered what is not emphasized sufficiently by Haffajee – that so-called state capture was not simply the activities of the evil Gupta brothers or Brian Molefe or whomever.

It was the systematic gutting by the ANC government of the civil service and SOEs that enabled the Guptas and the Molefes et al to profit. And, given the civil service and SOEs were clearly brimming with cadres that enabled it to happen, the question should be “Where are they all today?”

Why, after all, are we still seeing major corruption if it is all over but for prosecutions, as Zondo and the President would have it. Cadre deployment is the issue. It’s not a past event, it’s the continuing cancer.

So has the Commission been a colossal billion rand failure – something that’s simply diverted attention to the past and enabled Ramaphosa to deliver homilies of a Sunday evening?

I don’t think so. It’s provided, to some extent, a catharsis; it’s put a great deal of material on record; and it’s ripped asunder the curtain covering the behaviour of the ANC (and others).

But don’t think for a moment that state capture is over. If you don’t believe me, ask Eskom’s André de Ruyter or, for that matter, former Ekurhuleni executive mayor Tania Campbell.


[i] I mention Jane Austen’s pithy epigram from Pride and Prejudice not only to show off but because Ms. Austen – as opposed to the Zondo commission reports – I would happily re-read for the rest of my life.

[ii] I presume the powers-that-be at the DM, perhaps even Haffajee herself, or perhaps both, decided that Haffajee’s narrative about the Zondo commission required a theoretical, ideological, or more “intellectual,” underpinning – and so Chipkin’s analytical chapter, “Zondo and the Topography of Power” (unfortunately rendered on the Contents page as “the Typography of Power,” a classic typographical slip and the only obvious spelling blemish I came across), was therefore tacked on.

It’s a clever and interesting analysis, but then Chipkin is a clever person. However, whether this analysis needed to be added to this book and whether I “buy” the analysis, so to speak – well, for me the jury is still out.

One the one hand (for me), it’s an incisive analysis of how the ANC’s “bad apples” deteriorated into “state capture”. On the other, it’s simply an over-intellectual and sophistical rationalization of venality and thuggery.

But having done my own share of sophistical rationalization over the years, regarding Zuma in particular (mea culpa), I’d better concede that at the moment I have precious little patience with, or sympathy for, the band of thieves and their horrific doings detailed in this book.

[iii] This is not to say, by the way, that I don’t have some “concerns” or “gripes” of various sorts. For examples, Haffajee loves to use the words “colonialist” or “neocolonialist” – the use of which I often find is a disguise for shabby thinking – and she does sometimes writes PC kneejerk stuff such as, “If there is an outcome the State Capture Commission reports demand of us it is that capitalism, the private sector, multinational mores in South Africa and the markets need a systematic rethink, and that if we assume the problem to lie with ‘government’, or with the public sector, we are most mistaken”. Ja-ja.

Or, for example, she writes that Judge Raymond Zondo was [known as] a “brilliant” judge ...”. No offence to Judge Zondo – he seems to be a straight-shooter and did a yeomanlike job at the commission. But do we need schmaltz like that?

More seriously, one of Haffajee’s theses is to draw a straight line between the Zondo commission and what she calls the “attempted insurrection” in KZN in 2021, referring in particular to the “capture” of the state intelligence services. This is interesting and thought-provoking but is it accurate? I’m not sure.

Also, while Haffajee might not by the end of the book fully buy into it, she certainly begins by entertaining seriously, or worrying about, the “argument” that “what the media was calling corruption was in fact how business had been done for decades in the apartheid monopoly-capital era”. Thing is that Haffajee simply cannot escape the belief that there must be some rational reason, there just has to be, explaining why so many in the ANC are so rotten and have done what they have done, including even the “bad apples”. This, of course, is why the Chipkin chapter has been appended (perhaps why it was originally penned). What can I say, other than see footnote ii immediately above and see also part 3 of “The ANC: Another God that’s failed”.