How tight is the Guptas’ grip?
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.