‘State Capture’ often talked about in a claim of textbook precision if not emotion by those who have found it a means to keep South Africa occupied, increasingly appears seldom supported by evidence that will stand legal muster come the hour. For some of us, it remains a hokum argument rooted in a political campaign originally crafted by the opposition and successfully carried in the court of public opinion, with an innate lucrative personal benefit for those in power.
Let us not forget that on March 10, the Free State High Court on the Estina Dairy Farm inquest, ruled that the R10milion in Atul Gupta’s bank account be unfrozen. This past week Judge Loubser of the Free State High Court ordered the unfreezing of R250 million worth of the family’s assets. We also heard from the Pretoria Court where the NPA withdrew its bid to freeze the family’s Optimum and Doornfontein mine rehabilitation trusts.
With the NPA now having lost three rounds in an attempt of seizing the assets as proceeds of a crime to prove state capture as is claimed, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the NPA succeed to bring a case that will stand legal muster come August 2018 when it will make its case. There are those who argue the NPA is in the attempt of creating crime scenes and is failing to prove the much publicised and easily claimed state capture in evidence,
President Ramaphosa on May 24th hosted a meeting with editors of mainstream media, in such he expressed his sincere gratitude towards the media for its role in a democratic society. Ramaphosa also took the opportunity to confess that he as president and former president did not know the extent of state capture until the media revealed such. With this confession, Ramaphosa sought to give the media credit for having given us state capture as prevalent. Perhaps the president with his confession in a two-fold sense shared a less convenient truth though inadvertently when he credits the media for having unveiled state capture. It becomes natural to ask is it possible that state capture was created by the media?
South Africa is a constitutional democracy with three independent arms defining the State, these respectively are the legislative, the judiciary and the executive. To, therefore, claim state capture an undeniable reality it should be that evidence exists that at least two of the arms of the state are captured. Hitherto no evidence exists that either the judiciary or the legislative arms are captured leaving only the executive. We know efforts are afoot to prove its existence in the executive. Yet, at the same time, only some departments and ministries within the executive are tainted with this claim of state capture.
It may be important to jog our collective memory on the SA use of capture which became state capture as drummed into our national conscience, we warrant asking how and from where this construct made its presence known.
The making of a narrative of capture:
While President Ramaphosa, generously accredits the media for uncovering the extent of capture. The truth is if Ramaphosa wants to extend credit to anyone for the presence of a theme of capture as we are fed immanent in state capture, he will need to give the official opposition credit for the construct. The construct of capture was introduced to us by the Democratic Alliance when its strategists developed a campaign for its 2009 elections. The campaign would be centred on the famous three C’s namely cadre deployment, corruption and capture. While the DA itself is very active in cadre deployment it vociferously went after the ANC and sought to discredit it in every sphere on this score.
We will recall that the DA solicited a parliamentary investigation against the ANC led Eastern Cape Government in 2011 on the Siphiwo Sohena appointment. We also recall how by May 2013 it accused the ANC that its cadre deployment policy and practice contradicts the National Development Plan. It was only by December 2014 that the ANC in counter-accusation attacked the DA for its own cadre deployment practice. The DA did not back off but continued attacking the ANC’s cadre deployment, until the ANC began to re-echo the sentiments of a problematic in its own cadre deployment as an internecine challenge. Clearly, the DA won this round because the ANC was now doubting and critiquing its own cadre deployment when nothing was done about the DA’s own cadre deployment practice.
It was time for the DA to move to the second C (corruption) of its campaign, around 2014. The DA’s strategy was now framed around proving the ANC led administration as corrupt in its totality. The means to prove this would be to create a focal point, and that became the ANC and SA president, while it included premiers, mayors and all those in senior positions. Notwithstanding the fact that corruption is a reality from the time of Mandela to varying degrees, we now were led to believe corruption was anchored in the office of the 3rd Elected SA president Jacob Zuma. Fast track to 2016, the subject of a corrupt ANC was now entrenched in our discourse and the credibility of the ANC irrevocably damaged hardly because corruption was a lie neither because it was in the greater degree of prevalence, but for the fact that the DA in dictating the national narrative succeeded. As in the case of cadre deployment, the ANC eventually caught up and began to talk about corruption. Naturally, corruption must at all times be condemned, and there should never be a justification for corruption anywhere
The former public protector’s Secure and Comfort Report, which ultimately ended in the constitutional court, was the death knell in confirming the claim of rampant corruption with its fulcrum, the head of the ANC led government’s Nkandla property. The DA could now claim that it has proven the ANC as corrupt, not to be trusted to lead. By October 2016, with the Constitutional Court ruling public, corruption as a leading theme appeared to have run its course, since no corruption on the part of the president and his family was found in either the report or the subsequent Concourt rulings.
It was now time if not opportune to introduce SA to the last C in the DA trilogy, namely capture. State capture forcefully introduced to our conscience soon took over our national conversation. Its target as always for the DA was the head of ANC and SA, president Zuma. The means will be his publicly admitted relationship with a naturalised Gupta Family originally from India.
By June 2016, the Secretary-General of the ANC Gwede Mantashe informed the public that out of eight people confirmed to have evidence of state capture, only one was willing to make a written submission. State capture, with this statement, was thus nowhere near any real matter for engaging in ANC circles. Capture would be the most lethal of the DA’s campaign arsenal, for it sought to capitalise on the factionalised self-interest of leaders in an ANC that is known for its conflicting presence of capital, however, defined.
The problematic and political value of proving the Gupta’s as the state capturers
Despite the fact that there are those who argue that the nature of all capitalist states lends itself to capture, the SA narrative in this season attests a peculiarity in its practical and experiential claim for its prevalence. Please do not mistake my opinion as defence of the Guptas, I am on record for having said whatever this family and its companies have done wrong, they must like all others face the full might of law. My challenge is the SA prism of state capture immanent in this family in an exclusive sense. The crafted and uncritical appropriated narrative on state capture is necessarily only understood in centre and circumference as limited to the Gupta Family. Perhaps herein lies the questionability and uniqueness of the South African version of state capture’s conundrum. We may argue as to how sincere South Africa is to investigate the prevalence of state capture since it already pre-determined to find it within prescribed limitations to a family name to the conscious exclusion of all others.
Thus, the origin and current problematic with a claim of capture directly borrowed from the DA trilogy (cadre deployment, corruption and capture) for its elections campaign strategy against the ANC, combined with its choice definition in singular association with a particular family namely the Guptas raise questions. If state capture was to be proven it will need to be proven with the Guptas as its central and only focus. Herein lies perhaps the power of the campaign versus the sincerity to deal with a plausible captured state. It is logical to make a case for proving of state capture in the frame of Gupta claims because the narrative has succeeded and it appears all that is needed now is to prove this since the evidence as is claimed is a matter of public knowledge for all to see.
It appears the logic leads to proving the Guptas guilty of state capture and by extension dealing with the latter in a court reality of a successful verdict, would effectively arrest state capture. Not only will it ‘arrest’ state capture and declaring it finally a thing of the past, but it also produces natural heroes and messiahs. Do not underestimate the importance of the latter, we are in an undeniable public relations season it may just be the real reason why such emphasis and space are accorded to let state capture live when it really is corruption that must be dealt with. Framing corruption in claims of state capture a conviction against the already guilty Gupta family, therefore holds much more than political mileage and relevance for some among the political elite.
Who then stands to benefit from keeping us occupied with this crafted narrative of state capture? Who are the to be crowned Messiahs when this type of ‘state capture’ is proven? Can the case be made that undue pressure is exerted on the NPA to prosecute? Let us not forget that those who advance the narrative of state capture are increasingly becoming impatient with the NPA for proving too slow to act in nailing those whom they already had found guilty in the court of public opinion. We have heard Trevor Manuel echoing these sentiments. We have heard a call to action on the part of the president while in campaign mode. Back then-presidential candidate Ramaphosa in addressing a COSATU rally said the following: “The Hawks and NPA mustn’t sit on their laurels, they must do their work and investigate so those involved can be dealt with… there is no reason for the Hawks and NPA to wait for a commission of inquiry. Something about state capture should be done immediately.”
We cannot rush to conclude the president is now exerting undue political pressure on the NPA, yet we must ask why is the NPA ‘stretched, overwhelmed and under pressure’ as Abram Mashego in his City Press article categorically asserts for the overarching reasons why the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit’s (SCCU) which is directing the criminal investigation into state capture acted in a haphazard fashion? What happens if the case of state capture cannot be made? Will we accept it was always a political campaign?