The cardinal mistake of those close to power is they think they are in power too, writes Dumisani Hlophe.
Johannesburg – The Guptas arrived in South Africa from India in recent years. They came to South Africa because the country presented some serious opportunities – business opportunities, to be precise. Therefore, their close relationship with the president, Jacob Zuma, and his family is located within this money generation adventure.
In this commercial adventure, Zuma becomes a source of investment. His commercial value is influence and the control of state apparatus and resources. Given that he will not always be the State President, the Guptas sought to build commercial empires and secure commercial projects with state institutions while Zuma is still in office.
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This could be the reason even Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma earned the Award of the South African of the Year 2015 in a competition conceptualised and sponsored by the Gupta family. Rather than an award, this was possibly an investment in Dlamini-Zuma, given the possibility of her becoming the next president.
Schabir Shaik did the same. He invested in the then Deputy President Zuma.
It did not matter how much he paid for Zuma’s affairs. All that mattered to him was being in the inner circle of Zuma’s influence. But then, just like the Guptas, Schabir committed a similar cardinal mistake that those who get too close to power do – the assumption that they, too, are in power.
At times, those who get too close to power, get too comfortable to believe that, they too, are in power. As evidenced by the Guptas, they begin to throw their weight around to irritating proportions. They become reckless, and selfishly believe themselves to be untouchable.
There are four things that halted the Guptafication of the state: The first was overestimating Zuma’s influence in his second and last term.
The more his second term wears old, the lesser his influence gets both within the ANC and in the state. Therefore, it is decreasingly becoming an act of heroism for many within the ANC to disagree, publicly so, with Zuma.
Secondly, the Guptas misjudged the basic fact that Zuma does not control the National Treasury, nor the Reserve Bank. He may appoint the Minister of Finance, and the Reserve Bank governor, but he does not do so on his own terms. Des van Rooyen’s four-day tenure is rather indicative in this regard. The markets were going to fight any prospect of Guptafication of the National Treasury. They did, and they won.
Thirdly, the Guptas misconceived the balance of forces within the ANC. They failed to recognise that Zuma was increasingly vulnerable to be challenged within the ANC. Therefore, any brazen decision with a Gupta trademark was bound to be challenged.
The fourth aspect is that the Guptas are starting to play in traditionally white industrial terrains. When the Guptas began to replace traditionally white institutions in the mining and energy sectors the family was literally inviting war. Gwede Mantashe is partly right – the ANC has not been captured by the Guptas.
But he is wrong that the Guptas only reeled in some ANC individuals. Once the Guptas captured the president and his family, the state was captured. Not that the president owns the state, but being the executive head of the state allows him substantive influence and control over the affairs of the state.
Moreover, the Guptas did not really need to capture the ANC. The ANC, at an organisational level, is rather fragmented and weak. There is no strategic importance for the Guptas to Guptafy the ANC. The ANC has no control over the state over which it is the governing party. Therefore, it makes sense for the Guptas to simply target state control.
But then, there is a link between ANC factional dominance with state control.
Victorious factions in the ANC inherently dominate access and control of state resources. This is where the Guptas find themselves in the firing line. They are currently aligned to the ANC faction that manages the state apparatus. As the various factions seek to be the regime in the next administration, the Guptas are inherently the target. Even the South African Communist Party (SACP) has suddenly rediscovered its purpose – it is targeting the Guptas, and is calling for a judicial inquiry on its influence of state affairs.
Mantashe says the ANC cleanses and corrects itself. This has not happened in recent times: The Gupta landing at Waterkloof; Nkandla; and the tampering with the Finance portfolio in December last year, just to name but a few examples, have not seen the ANC cleanse itself .
There will be no executive consequences over the Guptafication of the state apparatus. The ANC is too divided to have consensus on punitive measures over the president.
Rather than taking action against Zuma the ANC will castigate the Guptas. The ANC will affirm its confidence in Zuma as the leader of the ANC and as President. More than anything else, Zuma will be portrayed as a victim of an overzealous arrogant business family, as Mantashe has done.
Just like it wished away Nkandla until it landed at the Constitutional Court, it will equally brush this aside. Until the ANC sets the benchmark and an ethical code for its leadership, Guptafication will merely be replaced by another fication, depending on the governing faction.