As the ex­tent of the Gup­tas’ hold on govern­ment is re­vealed, our pres­i­dent finds himself in­creas­ingly cor­nered, with two op­tions open to him, writes Mondli Makhanya

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When Min­eral Re­sources Min­is­ter Mosebenzi Zwane an­nounced one Thurs­day evening in Septem­ber that Cab­i­net had de­cided to in­sti­tute a ju­di­cial in­quiry into South Africa’s top four banks, he shocked not only the mar­kets but his own col­leagues as well. Cab­i­net had in­deed met on Wed­nes­day, Au­gust 31 un­der the chair­man­ship of Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. Many is­sues had been dis­cussed and de­cided upon, but none of the peo­ple who had been present at this meet­ing could re­call that par­tic­u­lar item.

Phone calls were ex­changed as min­is­ters tried to jog their mem­o­ries, think­ing per­haps the de­ci­sion had been taken dur­ing a power nap or a dash to the bath­room.

All they could re­call was Zwane try­ing to ta­ble the mat­ter three months prior, be­fore the long pre-elec­tion break.

Back then he had been shut down quickly by his col­leagues, who re­garded the pro­posal as pre­pos­ter­ous and dan­ger­ous. No se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion even took place about it and everyone thought it was dead and buried. Now here he was, an­nounc­ing it as a fait ac­com­pli. What was also odd was that the an­nounce­ment came from Zwane di­rectly, in­stead of via the usual Cab­i­net brief­ings given by Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe.

Of course, there was noth­ing to re­mem­ber. Zwane had made the whole thing up.

It was de­cided that, rather than Ramaphosa call­ing him to or­der, the re­buke should come di­rectly from Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. At the time, the pres­i­dent was at­tend­ing a Brics (the col­lec­tive of emerg­ing na­tional economies of Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa) sum­mit in China.

It was un­prece­dented for a min­is­ter to man­u­fac­ture a Cab­i­net de­ci­sion and make it pub­lic, so this was re­ally se­ri­ous.

Ac­cord­ing to govern­ment in­sid­ers, Zuma had been as shocked as everyone else upon hear­ing the Zwane an­nounce­ment. The re­buke was given by Zuma, who promised to deal with Zwane as soon as he re­turned from China. That was two months ago, and Zwane is still go­ing about his merry ways. To those with in­ti­mate knowl­edge of Zuma’s re­la­tion­ship with the Gupta fam­ily, Zwane’s be­hav­iour was not crazy at all. And Zuma’s shock was not feigned. He gen­uinely did not know.

What the chap­ter in­di­cated was a scary fact: The Gup­tas’ con­trol was so ex­ten­sive that they no longer needed to go via the pres­i­dent to get to the min­is­ters they had helped ap­point, and there­fore owned.

Af­ter Zwane had failed to get the de­ci­sion of­fi­cially adopted, they had de­cided to gam­ble on him mak­ing it pub­lic in the hope that Cab­i­net col­leagues would not con­tra­dict him. The pres­i­dent would then back him up and make the in­quiry of­fi­cial upon his re­turn – af­ter li­ais­ing with Sax­on­wold, of course.

The Gup­tas were the govern­ment, af­ter all, and the real Union Build­ings was their com­pound in Sax­on­wold.

As for­mer pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela’s State of Cap­ture re­port has shown, Zuma is pres­i­dent in name only. Many min­is­ters, of­fi­cials and par­a­sit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tives serve at the plea­sure of the Gup­tas – so much so, there is an in­side joke among min­is­ters. It goes along these lines: if you look around the Cab­i­net board­room ta­ble, you are not fully sure who, or how many among you, was ap­pointed by the fam­ily.

But now panic is set­ting in as the Gup­tas re­alise that their power – which is di­rectly linked to Zuma’s con­trol of the ANC and his abil­ity to po­lit­i­cally rub­ber-stamp their de­ci­sions – is slip­ping through their fin­gers.

With the dis­ap­pear­ance of this power, so their abil­ity to print money at will van­ishes.

By this time next year, it is highly likely that the Sax­on­wold com­pound will be a pass-through prop­erty for the Gupta fam­ily dur­ing vis­its from their man­sions abroad. Their busi­nesses will be in the hands of front com­pa­nies, run by the com­plex web of prox­ies that they have cul­ti­vated and made rich.

De­pend­ing on the ap­petite of who­ever is in charge of the po­lice and the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA) at the time, some of these prox­ies – in­clud­ing some house­hold names – will be spend­ing many hours in lawyers’ of­fices con­sult­ing on how to stay out of jail.

As for the for­tunes of Gupta-owned politi­cians – at na­tional and pro­vin­cial lev­els – these will be hang­ing in the bal­ance as the ANC pre­pares for its na­tional elec­tive con­fer­ence, to be held next De­cem­ber. By then, their hav­ing been the prop­erty of the Gup­tas will be recorded with a red “X” against their names, and those com­pil­ing elec­tion slates will be shun­ning Gup­tarites. So, what be­comes of Zuma? If ever he had an an­nus hor­ri­bilis, 2016 has been it. The year 2005 was also an eventful one for Zuma. This was when he was re­lieved of his deputy pres­i­dency post by then pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki and when he was charged with rape. How­ever, Zuma was rid­ing high on a wave of po­lit­i­cal pop­u­lar­ity at the time. He could still look for­ward to a po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

In con­trast, 2016 has been marked by a se­ries of dev­as­tat­ing blows, cul­mi­nat­ing in the voltaic events of this week.

Zuma may have sur­vived the fall­out from the damn­ing Con­sti­tu­tional Court judg­ment, the dis­as­trous Au­gust elec­tion re­sults, his clod­dish han­dling of the univer­sity cri­sis and open re­volt from party struc­tures. But all these set­backs have the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of ren­der­ing him im­po­tent – in the fig­u­ra­tive sense, in case he gets wor­ried.

Head­ing into this week, it was clear that Zuma was at sixes and sev­ens. The par­lia­men­tary cau­cus was no longer a bas­tion of sup­port for him and was tilt­ing to­wards his in­ter­nal party crit­ics. Se­nior mem­bers of his party, in­clud­ing sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe, had spo­ken out against his goons’ bid to blud­geon Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han as part of the Gup­tari­sa­tion project.

What must have sent a chill down his spine was the vote of no con­fi­dence in him by more than 100 ANC stal­warts. The names on that list read like a roll-call of a Vat­i­can con­clave. A mere men­tion of the names An­drew Mlan­geni, Ahmed Kathrada, Gertrude Shope and Joyce Seroke in ANC en­vi­rons gets party mem­bers stand­ing to at­ten­tion, even if sym­bol­i­cally. Any ANC mem­ber worth their salt would have sat up to lis­ten to the stal­warts’ mes­sage.

Zuma also had to wit­ness his neme­sis Mbeki adopt a states­man­like stance in plead­ing with him to lis­ten to the el­ders. It was not lost on an ad­mir­ing pub­lic that Mbeki let go of power much more eas­ily, af­ter spu­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tions by a Zuma-in­spired mob lynch­ing.

On Mon­day, Zuma had to con­tend with the col­lapse of the Gord­han case and the very real pos­si­bil­ity that NPA head Shaun Abra­hams could soon be spend­ing his days sit­ting on park benches, like Nomg­cobo Jiba and Lawrence Mr­webi. His fail­ure to halt the re­lease of the state cap­ture re­port and in­stead, to see it lay bare the de­tails of his servi­tude to the Gup­tas was an­other blow. Zuma now has two op­tions: fight to the bit­ter end or ne­go­ti­ate a safe exit. If he ne­go­ti­ates an exit, he will be ad­mit­ting to the wrong­do­ing for which he has been ac­cused. He will also be ad­mit­ting to his gross fail­ure as head of party and state. There is also the risk that let­ting go of the levers of power will open him to myr­iad crim­i­nal charges, from those laid against him be­fore he be­came head of state to more se­ri­ous ones con­cern­ing ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

Let­ting go will also be seen as a be­trayal by the dodgy forces in pol­i­tics, busi­ness and for­eign govern­ment which have ben­e­fited, and still stand to ben­e­fit, from his cor­rupt­ible ten­ure. They will cer­tainly hold a gun to his head to pre­vent him from leav­ing the Union Build­ings.

If he chooses to fight, he risks an ig­no­min­ious exit. Al­ready there are strong sen­ti­ments in so­ci­ety that his exit should not be pleas­ant, and that his life af­ter de­par­ture should not be spent ad­mir­ing his live­stock in Nkandla, but rather, eat­ing weak soup and bathing in com­mu­nal show­ers.

Ei­ther way, the end is nigh.

The Gup­tas’ con­trol was so ex­ten­sive that they no longer needed to go via the pres­i­dent to get to the min­is­ters they had helped ap­point, and there­fore owned

THE PRO­TAG­O­NISTS (clock­wise from top) Ajay Gupta, Mosebenzi Zwane, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, Des van Rooyen, Lynne Brown and for­mer pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela

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