Under Jacob Zuma’s stewardship as president, state capture in South Africa followed a thorough plan, which enabled key role-players in a complicated puzzle of looters to spread their tentacles within government so effectively that their plan had little chance of failure.
On his first day of taking the stand at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture yesterday, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan testified how Cabinet reshuffles were used to effect changes which would assist state capture, starting as far back as 2010.
He said the “final penny dropped” when the Gupta e-mails leaked to media emerged publicly. The minister said people began seeing the evidence and started “connecting the dots” about the impact of state capture.
Gordhan said it became clear how government procurement processes were manipulated, to facilitate looting.
“It seems to be common at government departments that goods that can be easily bought at a shop are instead bought from someone who adds a certain percentage [to the price], costing taxpayers more. It seems to be quite common … why?” Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked.
Gordhan said that it was not government policy but the practice was implemented by officials anyway.
“But the constant question for us all should be, who benefits? Where does the money go? Who designs these processes?” asked Gordhan.
His testimony corroborated that given earlier by former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, on how Zuma – supported by a compliant Cabinet – would fire ministers and senior civil servants who became stumbling blocks in guaranteeing that his massive projects came to fruition.
Among the projects seen as financially and economically unsound were the SA-Russia nuclear deal, PetroSA-Engen, and the DenelAsia deals – which left both Nene and Gordhan as casualties of Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffles.
Gordhan described his ministerial tenure under Zuma as having been a period marked by “politics of destruction, which damaged the reputation of individuals and communities”.
With discredited British-based international public relations company Bell Pottinger hard at work to harm the reputation of those seen to be in opposition to Zuma-endorsed projects – part of Gupta state capture – Gordhan said “human cost was formidable”.
“They controlled political authority and used that control in key institutions that gave out tenders,” Gordhan told the enquiry. “Then they would ensure that nobody investigated and no effective prosecutions took place. The question that should be asked is, why no high-ranking figure is in an orange uniform?”
Quoting from the report Betrayal of Promise by a group of local academics, Gordhan said state capture comprised controllers, elites, brokers, mobility controllers and dealers.
He explained: “Controllers are defined as strongmen who secured access to and maintained control over massive resources. Zuma and the Guptas were patrons of resources. Elites were networks that could attract resources with controllers, established and maintained patronage networks that facilitated the distribution of benefits.”
Despite trust having earlier existed in his relationship with Zuma when he would be advised by National Treasury on austerity measures, that later fizzled out when the minister of finance and the director-general could not share the same view on issues.
“The relationship is similar to that of a CFO (chief financial officer) and the CEO (chief executive officer) in a corporate, which should be based on trust and confidence,” said Gordhan, who confirmed a breakdown in the relationship with Zuma.
He said, his was “to give the commission pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and for the commission to connect the dots”.
The Gordhan testimony continues today.
– Additional reporting by ANA