Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The issue of state capture, which appears to pervade our national discourse these days, lays bare the critical need for us to never lose sight of the fact that governance and private business interests should never mix.

They are diametrically opposite.

Indeed, the government should be the bulwark against the often untrammelled ambition and self-interest business people ordinarily possess, and should possess to make them good business people. This enables them to extend their empires — usually at the expense of their competitors — and make profits, employ more people and build edifices we can respect and marvel at. At its core business, for want of a better way to put it, is often a zero-sum game.

History has shown us time and again that business people don’t make good public officials if they don’t unlearn some of their native business instincts. The mindset required in the two arenas is totally different.

It takes a special person who has deep respect for the difference to do well in both.

One such person is Robert Rubin. He was the CEO of Goldman Sachs before going on to serve as chief economist and later the 70th treasury secretary in the US. In his memoir In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington, after his sojourn in the public sector, he laid bare his "deep respect" for the difference in the two arenas.

Service in a government is a higher calling than that of private business. We need to appreciate that. The government and the public sector in general have the obligation to watch out for the poor and vulnerable, as well as the captains in the commanding heights of commerce and everyone in between. Not so in business.

State capture comes about when those to whom the noble duty of public governance is entrusted shirk their responsibilities or are too timid, greedy or ignorant to exercise this responsibility for the public good.

We can vilify the Guptas, and perhaps MultiChoice or "white monopoly capital", as much as we want. In truth, everyone in business is, either consciously or unconsciously, forever looking to take advantage of that gullible, timid, greedy or ignorant public official when they see one. Our ultimate antidote is to put the right people in public office.

Kola JolaoluCape Town

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