Do not hold your breath that Guptagate will change the ANC - Business Day, 13th May 2013.

In his fortnightly column in Business Day newspaper, John Kane-Berman does not believe that 'Guptagate' will change the ANC's corrupt ways.

Curious. The police shoot 34 mineworkers dead at Marikana without anybody being suspended, but when somebody arranges for the Gupta aircraft to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base, half a dozen generals and other officials are sent on leave.

President Jacob Zuma, who supposedly knew no more about the commandeering of Waterkloof than he did about the fortune spent on his estate at Nkandla, is said to be "hopping mad". Various ministers are demanding answers. The South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) have echoed the outrage of the secretary-general of the African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe.

But will Guptagate cause the ANC and its allies to mend their ways?

The commandeering of Waterkloof was as humiliating a breach of national security as could be imagined, the humiliation compounded by the brazenness of the Guptas (whose New Age newspaper, no doubt partly truthfully, describes the outrage against them as "xenophobic vitriol"). But neither the abuse of national resources nor the cronyism on display are new.

Much of the Nkandla estate is financed by taxpayers. "Security" is used as a pretext not only for the expenditure, but also to avoid questions about it. The country’s intelligence services are deployed for factional battles. The ANC — some of whose members are now scandalised by the Guptas — has raised little objection to Zuma’s abuse of state resources.

Then there is Chancellor House. The ANC profits from its 25% share in one of the major Eskom construction contractors. Through its "progressive business forum" the ANC hawks interviews with ministers of state to raise money not for the state but for the party. Business buys into this.

Cronyism itself is a key ingredient of black economic empowerment. People are appointed to company boards because of their ANC connections. Some are appointed despite their involvement in the dubious ethics of Chancellor House.

"Unauthorised" use of Waterkloof? National and provincial departments, local authorities, and various government agencies routinely run up millions in unauthorised expenditure. Some brave officials try to stop this, but the sums disappearing via corruption get larger. Cosatu complains, but still votes for the ANC.

As for brazen behaviour that takes the country for granted, what better exemplar than Zuma himself with his private estate and the additional aircraft he orders up to escort the one in which he flies?

The revelations about the Guptas’ use of Waterkloof apparently resulted from a leak by an official. So far the ANC is sensibly not attacking the media for joyfully exploiting the leak, but is instead trying to find out how Waterkloof was commandeered.

Will the party now recognise that the leak and the media performed a public service? Will it rethink its support for the recently enacted Protection of State Information Bill? Or will it proceed with attempts to stop and/or punish leaks that might embarrass the government in future?

At the heart of Guptagate lies the ANC’s Soviet-style conflation of party and state so that the assets of the state are deemed to be party property. The selling of ministers’ time to raise money is brazen enough, but it belongs low on a list of abuse which extends upwards through the Travelgate parliamentary travel scandal to parastatals’ sponsorships of New Age to Nkandla to Eskom’s Chancellor House deal. Top of the list is the R30bn 1998 arms deal, although the details are not yet clear — and probably never will be, given various cover-ups.

If Zuma and his colleagues and his party can routinely help themselves to public resources with impunity, it is understandable that, as their friends, the Guptas should think themselves also entitled to a slice of the action.

What we don’t yet know from the ANC’s reaction to Guptagate is whether they wish to call a halt to this whole rotten system or whether they are merely seeking scapegoats for being made to look so foolish.

 

This column was first published in Business Day.

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