There is no question that under apartheid, certain companies had an unhealthy hold over the state. There’s also no debate that this influence grew with the advent of sanctions, leading to the emergence of de facto monopolies in business.
Of course, it is also trite to say big business the world over tries to sway government policy to its advantage. In the US, for example, lobbying is part of a formal process, an accepted part of the free-market system. And while corruption is, of course, a universal phenomenon, laws exist to fight it and prevent the emergence of cartels.
So it was disingenuous of President Jacob Zuma’s cronies, during last week’s no confidence motion, to try twist the debate on state capture into a fight about "white monopoly capital".
Despite growing calls from within the ANC for its compromised leader to quit, the party predictably closed ranks to defeat the DA’s motion of no confidence in the president in parliament.
In truth, it was a silly gambit by the DA, seeking to exploit the advantage from former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s explosive report on "state capture". To no-one’s surprise, Zuma emerges as a kingpin in the Gupta family’s bid to bend state institutions to its will.
Predictably, Madonsela’s report gave the DA and the EFF ample ammunition to skewer Zuma, his henchmen and their carpetbagger benefactors. Its first casualty has been Brian Molefe, the capable Eskom CEO whose name crops up 71 times in the report and who has since resigned, effective in January.
But it was the counter-attack by Zuma’s acolytes that left many gobsmacked. Trotting out tired slogans of outdated Marxist radicalism, ministers Nomvula Mokonyane and Malusi Gigaba argued that the SA state had actually been "historically captured" by "white monopoly capital".
Mokonyane said the no confidence vote was really part of a "quest to gain power other than through the ballot box, using a black face" — referring to DA leader Mmusi Maimane — to "undermine the will of the people".
Gigaba’s argument was equally dire. He claimed: "There is a bitter struggle in SA between the former oppressors and those whom they had oppressed for the right and power to determine the political direction of this country as well as the ownership of its resources."
This fight, he said, "is ultimately about the control of the economic fortunes of this country and her political destiny ... In our case, our extensive mineral wealth, Brics and the prospect of nuclear power stations in SA lie at the heart of the regime-change offensive we are subjected to."
Even Zuma’s supporters will see this as grasping at straws. It is empty rhetoric to reframe the looting by the Zupta-contingent as a "transformation project" aimed at shifting money into the hands of the oppressed black majority.
Even if they had a point (which they don’t), Madonsela’s report makes it clear that these deals benefit a faction of powerful, politically connected individuals — not the poor.
What’s most alarming is that Zuma’s backers in cabinet can’t grasp the difference between a patronage-driven, probably illegal form of crony capitalism, and a valid process designed to redress the glaring economic inequalities bequeathed by three centuries of oppression.
Indeed, the constitution sets out a legitimate way in which certain instruments of the state can be used to effect this redress. However, that legitimate process is entirely inimical to a corrupt elite bent on grabbing the fruits of the state. If Zuma’s backers don’t know the difference, they have no business being in government.