State Capture: Thuli’s final quest for the truth – investigating the Guptas’ political influence
Just three months before she is due to vacate what must be one of the hottest seats in South Africa, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday learnt that Treasury had approved her request for funds to conduct an investigation into allegations of state capture by the Gupta family. Madonsela’s approach to Treasury in March for an additional R3-million is an unprecedented move for her office. But considering the extent and scope of the alleged state capture, it is unlikely that she will be in office when the investigation is completed. For this reason her successor will feel the blinding heat of a spotlight with enough candlepower to illuminate every dark corner. By MARIANNE THAMM.
In March this year the Public Protector had to go begging for money outside of the usual orbit of Parliament’s justice portfolio committee where she pitches for her annual budget. In an unprecedented move, Madonsela approached Treasury – usually a customary practice for the executive when establishing a commission of inquiry, for example – for additional funds to conduct an investigation into allegations of state capture by the Gupta family. The money was required, she said back then, to appoint external forensic investigators so that the probe could be conducted speedily.
At present, as we are all well aware, time is of the essence. Madonsela vacates her office in October, three months from now. What is vital, however, if she is not around to see through the investigation to the end, is that she will be there at its start, overseeing who is appointed to look into what must rank as one of the biggest threats to South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
Two complaints were lodged with the Public Protector in March. The first was by a group of catholic priests and brothers, the Dominican Order of Southern Africa, who approached Madonsela’s office to investigate the Gupta family and the extent of its dealings and meddling in affairs of state. The complaint was registered after revelations by Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas and former MP, Vytjie Mentor, that they had been offered Cabinet positions by the family in return for business deals.
Mentor and Jonas were the first to break ranks and publicly speak out about the undue influence of the Gupta family on President Zuma and also with regard to strategic Cabinet appointments. Shortly after Mentor and Jonas went public, Themba Maseko, former head of the Government Communication and Information Systems, also crawled out of the woodwork to confess that yes, he too had been asked/told to do favours for the Guptas.
Soon everyone was talking about the family’s extensive business dealings with state-owned enterprises, mines and defence, to name only a few spheres of influence. The notion of “State Capture”, while it was whispered between those in the know, became quotidian – used freely in headlines and political discussions.
The extent of the scandal prompted the election-bound ANC, and specifically Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, to announce that the ruling party would conduct its own investigation, a probe which unsurprisingly yielded no result.
Which is why the probe by the Public Protector’s office has now become urgent and crucial. If Madonsela can pull this off before she vacates her office, she will most certainly go out with a bang. The handout by Treasury, R1.5-million (half of what she requested), should provide enough resources and expertise to untangle the alleged extensive web of patronage the Gupta family is believed to have woven since brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh’s arrival in the country between 1993 and 1997.
The Dominican Order, in their complaint, also requested Madonsela to determine whether the Gupta family had known about the appointment of weekend special finance minster Des van Rooyen in December 2015 and whether the two “advisors” who arrived with Van Rooyen had been properly appointed. Over and above this they also asked the Public Protector’s office to examine the Gupta family’s business dealings with government departments to determine whether there had been any irregularities, undue enrichment, corruption and undue influence in the awarding of tenders, mining licences and government advertisements in the Gupta-owned New Age.
More or less the same time that the Dominican Order lodged their complaint, DA leader Mmusi Maimane submitted a formal request to Madonsela to investigate another aspect of the Gupta effect. In this case Maimane told the Public Protector that the DA was of the opinion that President Zuma had breached the Executive Ethics Code “by wilfully allowing persons other than himself to appoint members of the Cabinet”.
Madonsela was obliged to investigate the DA’s complaint as it pertained to the Executive Ethics Code.
The Public Protector’s office, which Madonsela has elevated to one of the most effective Chapter 9 institutions, has about 4,700 outstanding cases and the R1.5-million injection by Treasury will go towards these as funds from the current budget will be redirected towards the high priority Gupta probe. In March the Constitutional Court also handed down a the significant judgment which affirmed and clarified the powers of the Public Protector.
Perhaps Madonsela should begin her investigation by interviewing Vytie Mentor who last month arrived at a police station in Durbanville in the Western Cape with a “suitcase” full of evidence allegedly related to State Capture by the Gupta family. Mentor, Daily Maverick has been told by a reliable source, provided a detailed affidavit which now forms part of an investigation being handled by Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, head of the Hawks. The case, when it became evident that it implicated ANC politicians and ministers, was bounced from local detectives to the national office of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation. DM