How tight is the Gup­tas’ grip?

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhana voices@city­

One of the ma­jor prob­lems with South Africa is that the agenda moves so fast, we are rarely able to prop­erly di­gest the ef­fects of ma­jor de­vel­op­ments. The past two weeks are a case in point. Last Mon­day, we were to­tally con­sumed by the sud­den re­call by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma of the fi­nance min­is­ter and his team from an im­por­tant in­vestor road­show. It was a mas­sive de­vel­op­ment.

The top-level del­e­ga­tion in­cluded cap­tains of in­dus­try and trade union­ists, who were sup­posed to join the gov­ern­ment in sell­ing the South African story to peo­ple who con­trol tril­lions of dol­lars and those who shape per­cep­tions and in­vestor con­fi­dence lev­els.

We never got to con­tem­plate the hu­mon­gous long-term dam­age of abruptly can­celling the road­show be­fore the next big story came along.

The reshuf­fle was a story that should also have oc­cu­pied our at­ten­tion for weeks. But be­cause of its at­ten­dant im­pli­ca­tions of state cap­ture, the story fast be­came about the fight­back against Zuma and the counter-fight­back by his loy­al­ists.

The fight­back and counter-fight­back story has just be­come big­ger, with mass protests and wran­gles in the ANC’s up­per ech­e­lons steal­ing public at­ten­tion.

Next week there will be more twists and turns. We are a so­ci­ety on steroids.

This lowly news­pa­per­man would like to press rewind and look at what should re­ceive more at­ten­tion and keep us awake at night.

The main is­sue in­volves the Cabi­net reshuf­fle it­self. Some have re­flected that Zuma’s mid­night an­nounce­ment was the com­ple­tion of a stealthy coup d’état by the Gup­tas. We all know that the fam­ily’s in­flu­ence over the state and the gov­ern­ing party has been grow­ing at the speed at which Bo­nang Matheba moves in on her tar­gets.

The ANC has folded its arms as this fam­ily has tight­ened its grip on the pres­i­dent’s go­nads and forced him to hand the coun­try over to them piece by piece. It ig­nored loads of ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing the Public Pro­tec­tor State of Cap­ture re­port. Last Thurs­day, the Gup­tas en­gi­neered a mas­sive reshuf­fle, pre­vi­ously the pre­serve of Zuma and his ANC com­rades.

ANC Trea­surer-Gen­eral Zweli Mkhize put it suc­cinctly when he said: “Un­like pre­vi­ous con­sul­ta­tions which take place with se­nior of­fi­cials of the ANC dur­ing such ap­point­ments‚ and changes to the com­po­si­tion of the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive‚ the brief­ing by the pres­i­dent left a dis­tinct im­pres­sion that the ANC is no longer the cen­tre.”

Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe told the world that the list of the new Cabi­net was “drawn up else­where”. Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa echoed the sen­ti­ment.

None of them men­tioned the Gup­tas by name, but ev­ery­one knew they were say­ing that power had been wrenched from their hands and they had been ren­dered mere func­tionar­ies, with nom­i­nal power. Real power now lay in Sax­on­wold.

To use ANC par­lance, “the strate­gic cen­tre of power” had been ceded to an un­elected fam­ily.

This is no small thing. It has been known that the Gup­tas had a hand in the el­e­va­tion of min­is­ters and public of­fi­cials and that their ten­ta­cles reached deep into gov­ern­ment and sta­te­owned en­ter­prises. But when it came to min­is­te­rial ap­point­ments, Zuma at least pre­tended to re­spect the of­fi­cials who were elected by ANC branches to help him make big de­ci­sions.

Those who claim to know these things al­lege that about half of the state ex­ec­u­tive is owned by the Gup­tas. Whether or not this is an ex­ag­ger­a­tion can eas­ily be cleared up by Zuma him­self if he has the courage to ap­point a ju­di­cial com­mis­sion of in­quiry into state cap­ture, as sug­gested by the Public Pro­tec­tor.

Such a com­mis­sion of in­quiry would an­swer the other big is­sue on which there has not been enough re­flec­tion: Are the new min­is­ter of fi­nance and his deputy also owned by the Gup­tas?

When Deputy Fi­nance Min­is­ter Sfiso Buthelezi ar­rived in Par­lia­ment, spec­u­la­tion was rife that he was to be the Gup­tas’ re­place­ment for then fi­nance min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han. It was be­lieved that the former board mem­ber of the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA would warm his par­lia­men­tary seat for a while be­fore Zuma pulled the trig­ger on Gord­han. Once at Trea­sury, the be­lief went, he would do for the Gup­tas what Gord­han and his team had re­fused to do.

As­cer­tain­ing Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba’s links or non-links to the Gup­tas is essen­tial.

To him, the ques­tions he has been asked in this re­gard may not seem im­por­tant, but they re­ally are.

Sto­ries about his links to the fam­ily have been in the public do­main since he was min­is­ter of public en­ter­prises, the po­lit­i­cal boss of state-owned en­ti­ties. There were re­ports at the time about his ad­viser fa­cil­i­tat­ing what seemed to be a bribe meet­ing be­tween the Gup­tas and the then chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of our na­tional air­line. Politi­cians openly ac­cuse him of be­ing a paid ser­vant of this fam­ily that has cor­rupted our body politic.

He has so far been dis­mis­sive in his an­swers, only ad­mit­ting to at­tend­ing a Diwali cel­e­bra­tion at the Gupta house and re­ceiv­ing some in­con­se­quen­tial gifts from them.

With the cen­tral­ity of Trea­sury in the coun­try’s life and the per­cep­tion that Gi­gaba is the cul­mi­na­tion of the Gupta coup d’état, these an­swers are crit­i­cal.

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