Getting Outa the coffee shop
Amotion of no confidence by opposition parties against President Jacob Zuma may have failed this week, but a dedicated team of staff at the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) plan to take the fight to the courts. Outa, a nonprofit organisation, launched an attack on Zuma in Parliament late last month when it handed its dossier, No Room to Hide: A President Caught in the Act, to the parliamentary portfolio committee on public enterprises.
Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage, who resigned from his job in 2012 to focus on the organisation, was joined by Rob Hutchinson and John Clarke in 2013. Operating from home and out of coffee shops for the next two years, Duvenage, Hutchinson and
Clarke worked with a team of advisers to keep the organisation going.
Initially, Outa was funded by a number of organisations, including the SA Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, chaired by Duvenage, to fight e-tolls. The organisation also gave them “two other soldiers”, advisers Paul Pauwen and Marc Corcoran.
Duvenage said before the news of the #GuptaLeaks broke that the Outa team met with senior counsel to explore alternative routes to having Zuma removed from office.
“As much as we acknowledge that we are a democracy with a sound election process ... there is sufficient evidence to civil society that our government is failing us, and badly. Too much taxpayer money was being wasted through maladministration and corruption,” he said. “Naturally, the Gupta leaks added a lot of wind to the sails of our evidence building, and helped us to fast-track and compile our case document.”
Outa’s dossier alleges that Zuma lied to Parliament and the nation, abused his position to enrich himself and his “cronies”, allowed himself to be manipulated when making Cabinet choices and abused state resources to avoid prosecution. It also details alleged evidence of Zuma’s links to corruption and state capture, which was compiled by its new team of investigators and forensic experts.
It was presented to MPs late last month as part of the parliamentary portfolio committee on public enterprises’ preliminary investigation into state capture.
The 175-page submission, structured as a legal document, shows how far Outa has come from its days in the coffee shop.
The organisation now has 38 full-time staff based at the organisation’s offices in Randburg. They specialise in investigations, litigation, research, communications and project management. Their back-office team manages finance, supporter queries, governance, marketing and growth strategies.
Aside from the permanent employees, they also contract forensic experts and plan to hire more full-time specialists. Other expansion plans include an office in Cape Town to deal with parliamentary engagement, lobbying and advocacy.
Although he declined to reveal specifics, Duvenage said the organisation was wholly funded by South Africans – “individuals and mainly small and medium businesses, who donate small amounts ranging from R115 to R420 a month”.
“Lately, many of our donors have asked to increase their monthly donation amounts, in light of the importance of the work we are doing. In short, some describe this as crowdfunding for South Africa’s prosperity,” he said, adding that they worked with other civil society groups. Duvenage said that, leading up to this week’s motion of no confidence vote, they needed to share their dossier with MPs so that “they had a compelling evidence-based reference point on the reality of state capture and the implications of Zuma thereto”.
“Most importantly, however, was the fact that if Parliament’s motion of no confidence was unsuccessful in removing Zuma, this would enable Outa to turn to the courts with a compelling case and plea from society to seek remedy on a need for action to have Zuma removed,” Duvenage said.
“We need to not only turn to the courts for protection to have this unwarranted conduct and behaviour attended to, but also display that we have exhausted all other avenues available to society. We simply cannot sit back and wait for elections to come around under such a dire situation.”
Outa’s initial fight was over e-tolls in 2012, and it is still not over as the court battle continues. Last year, the organisation relaunched, broadening the scope of its work to include tackling government corruption and inefficient tax policies. “Due to our experience gained in challenging government on the e-toll matter, plus other learnings and the realisation of a need that a lot of work needed to be done in this area, we decided to expand our mandate, provided that we were able to develop a funding model to obtain sufficient and sustainable income needed to pay the salaries of a structured team of people required to do the work, plus rent, and [money] for computers and communication costs,” he said. by Msindisi Fengu