Malusi Gigaba. Picture: AFP
Malusi Gigaba. Picture: AFP

Former home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba, who resigned this week, will go down in SA’s political history as a rather lamentable figure: vain, ambitious, hubristic — and more than a little indiscreet with the smartphone. But it turns out his downfall was caused not by a negative attribute, but by a positive one; a strong desire to please.

President Cyril Ramaphosa gave no indication about what exactly caused Gigaba’s departure, but since the deadline for responding to public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s upbraiding of Gigaba was the day after his resignation, presumably that had something to do with it. Technically, Gigaba resigned of his own accord, but since just a week ago he declared there would be "hell to pay" if he were removed from the ANC, presumably he was not intending to stand down entirely of his own accord.

Gigaba’s great skill was his compliance. That compliance was visible when he removed swathes of parastatal board members to make way for corrupt Gupta-linked stooges, and when he twisted home affairs regulations to allow the Guptas to become SA citizens. He fought with no-one but stood up for no-one either. And sadly, it worked; the more he dutifully did his bosses’ bidding, the more he rose in government.

Even there he was compliant, implicitly agreeing with the demands of the markets and ratings agencies by breaking a long-standing ANC aversion to increasing the VAT rate.

His great skill was his ability to talk his way out of trouble. His message vacillated depending on the audience he was addressing, but after some initial missteps he settled into the role of a conventional finance minister.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened with the Fireblade incident, but working backwards it seems that he initially agreed to the Oppenheimers’ request to open a private customs and immigration facility at OR Tambo airport for the rich and famous. Happy to be of service, as always. But then it seems the Gupta family got to hear about this and wanted in. Gigaba was on the horns of a dilemma: stick with his decision or please the Guptas and their acolytes in the government. He went with the latter.

When the issue came to court, he denied he had ever given the Oppenheimers the go-ahead, a claim that was easily refuted by revealing the correspondence. Confronted with this contradiction, he absurdly just stuck with his story, and repeated it before a parliamentary committee.

And so it turns out that in modern SA you can facilitate the corruption of the country’s most valuable assets, imperil the economy and be promoted for it. But, fortunately, the one thing it’s hard to do is to maintain a political career after you’ve lied to a judge.