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

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Edi­to­rial@fin­week.co.za Alices­tine Oc­to­ber is a par­lia­men­tary re­porter for Netwerk24.

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.

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