The money belongs to all South Africans
Allegations of “irregular” apartheid spoils received by Absa may have provided some political opportunists with the ammunition to deflect the discourse on looting of state coffers to one of race. But in the interest of good governance and transparency, al
the fact that South Africa is still suffering from an apartheid hangover was once again proven earlier this month with the leaking of a preliminary report by the Public Protector, which found that Absa had benefitted from alleged “irregular” apartheid spoils.
The findings in the preliminary report show Absa may have to repay more than R2.2bn to state coffers as it has apparently not fully repaid the interest on the capital it received as a “lifeboat” from the government of the day. This amount was paid to Bankorp at the time, which Absa later took over. Netwerk24 has reported that Sanlam was Bankorp’s majority shareholder at the time. Because many of these banks experienced operational problems at the time, they applied for state aid.
Absa has rejected the preliminary findings in the report as factually incorrect and said that this debt has been repaid.
But some people believe that the R2.2bn is just the tip of the iceberg. The organisation Black First, Land First (BLF) met with the new Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, regarding the investigation, which had initially cast its net further than just Absa, in the same week that the controversial report was leaked.
Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who completed the investigation, regularly came under fire and especially from the BLF, who invaded her offices last year because she was allegedly dragging her feet with the investigation. The organisation was one of the first groups to welcome the findings of the preliminary report. The BLF believes that this is a foretaste of success in the battle to recoup the R26bn that they say “white capital stole” from the Reserve Bank (and therefore the people of SA).
The BLF demands this money should specifically be earmarked for black youth and the #FeesMustFall campaign and that it should not disappear into state coffers.
The preliminary findings against Absa aren’t new.
A few years ago, journalist Sylvia Vollenhoven was involved in a bitter battle with the SABC over the ownership of a documentary, Project Spear, which she compiled based on an intelligence report that showed that billions of rand had “disappeared” before and during the transition.
The SABC blocked the broadcasting of the documentary at the 11th hour. The question was: if the new democratic government had ordered the investigation, why had it not applied the findings of the contentious CIEX report and recouped this money for the state?
For her efforts, Vollenhoven is still engaged in a court case with the SABC over the rights of the documentary, which she insists every South African should have the right to see.
Another question is why the new Public Protector has decided to focus on the Absa report in particular. Also, why now? The timing is interesting, as the Jacob Zuma faction has long had their knives out for the banks – especially those that had cut ties with the controversial Gupta family last year. Absa is one of the banks to do so.
The report and its timing have undoubtedly not only given the Zuma faction ammunition in the ongoing battle, but it could technically neutralise the banks. It’s virtually impossible to try and place the current developments outside of the existing political infighting in the ANC and the public discourse on the Guptas and state capture.
The preliminary findings and the timing thereof are now causing a U-turn in public perceptions of banks, the Reserve Bank and Treasury as being “above board” – good guys with “clean hands” who have thus far been regarded as a moral “counterbalance” against what has been regarded as large-scale looting of state coffers.
For the Zuma faction, this also helps to fill its arsenal for targeting those from previous ANC administrations – many of whom are now leading the opposition to Zuma’s leadership. Trevor Manuel, the minister of finance at the time of the CIEX report, is one of them.
But uncovering corruption, in whichever shape or form, should not only serve political self-interest. There are now those who are sharpening their knives to attack the sins of apartheid and who want to paint the public discourse on state plunder in white against black. Organisations such as the BLF have, for example, promised to eradicate “white corruption”.
As a consequence of the Public Protector’s report on state capture, which implicates the Gupta family, it was suggested in many forums that the “state capture by white monopoly capital” should also be investigated. It’s easy – as is currently the case with the public discourse on state plunder and state capture – to speak of white corruption and black corruption. It makes us vacillate between the extremes of moral exculpation and guilt, which is not of much use. The so-called lifeboats paid out by the apartheid government should be investigated, and where justified should be repaid to the state. The money doesn’t belongs to a white or a black government – it belongs to all South Africans. In the interest of good governance and transparency, everything possible should be done to get to the truth.