Idiot’s guide to Guptology
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For Guptology to thrive, it is not necessary for the Guptas to be present. All that is necessary is an acceptance of the principles of corruption, writes Tinyiko Maluleke.
Johannesburg - A week ago - on Thursday, March 10 - to be exact, while driving from work, I listened with my mouth wide open to radio talk show host Mapaseka Mokwele, her guests and her callers, nonchalantly and repeatedly using the word gupta as a moniker for penis, during a sexual health show, nogal!
Such is the extent to which the Guptas - as in brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh - are becoming part of the warp and woof of township lingo, apparently.
Listening to the nuances in the way the word gupta was employed during the radio talk show, the usage appeared to derive from the “invasion” by the Gupta family’s A330 Airbus, otherwise known as Flight JAI 9900, when, sacrilegiously and unlawfully, it landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013.
To be fair to Mokwele et al, they did not invent these symbols of what feels like an emergent Guptology. Listeners might have suggested them.
Often uncouth and impolite, popular lingo gives us a glimpse into how ordinary people make sense of what happens around them, the strategies they use to cope with it all, and how they seek to construct their own sense of agency.
Yet when it comes to the growing influence of the Guptas over the political elite, and especially their alleged closeness to President Jacob Zuma, there seems to be a growing feeling of the most devastating national violation.
Nothing has brought this feeling more to the fore than the allegations, made on social media, by former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor that the Guptas offered her a cabinet position, and the subsequent statement in which Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas recalls his more recent experience of the same thing.
The Vytjie Mentor and Mcebisi Jonas statements have been widely read as confirmation of the nation’s bottled-up fears about the possible “capture” of the state by the Gupta family.
Subsequent to the Jonas statement and her earlier social media postings, Mentor took to the radio on Thursday night to speak about how the Guptas had told her she “could be a minister in a week’s time or so” if she could influence the cancellation of SAA’s India route so an airline owned by the Guptas could take it over.
Mentor said she had rejected the offer with contempt. On her way out, she proceeded to tell this to the president, who also happened to be at the Gupta compound on this occasion.
“The president did not take offence at my saying to him, I’m disgusted and I have not agreed and I cannot agree’. He said, I understand, ntombazana (girl)’ in isiZulu. And (he) said It’s a pity you had to come all the way. Look after yourself and take care’.”
A week or so later, Mentor heard the president announcing his latest cabinet shuffle on radio.
Earlier this week, the Presidency issued two statements of denial in one night, saying “President Jacob Zuma has no recollection of Ms Mentor” and therefore he was “not aware of the alleged incidents in her career”.
If the confidence with which Mentor narrated her 4am encounter in Saxonwold is anything to go by, the Presidency may live to regret these statements.
Since then, a few senior ANC members have made statements in support of Jonas or referring to their own experiences or to their dislike of the Guptas’ power and influence. They include Derek Hanekom, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Mathews Phosa, Jackson Mthembu, Ben Turok and Barbara Hogan, among others.
It remains to be seen whether this small list will grow into hundreds, thousands and millions or whether the ANC family will close ranks in defence of their president and the Guptas.
Since the Jonas statement, other voices have questioned its timing and methodology, as well as Jonas’s integrity.
The most strident of these voices have been those of the ANC Youth League and the Guptas.
For its part, the ANCYL has reportedly called for Jonas to be “recalled with immediate effect”.
The Guptas suggest that Jonas is “diverting attention from his own relationships and practices”. Speaking in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, a confident, if also giggling Zuma, emphatically rejected opposition questions about the alleged Gupta influence over him, saying: “If Jonas says he was offered (a job) by the Guptas, I think you would be well-placed to ask the Guptas or Jonas.”
The most measured reaction so far has come from Gwede Mantashe and the party spokesman, Zizi Kodwa. Visibly annoyed by the Gupta statement’s implying the ANC was riddled with factions, Mantashe suggested the Guptas were afflicted by the arrogance of power. Not in so many words, Mantashe also pointed out that, given his command of a considerable political constituency as ANC president, among others things, Zuma was not about to be to recalled by the ANC.
From the reactions above, a picture of the possible ways in which the ANC and President Zuma may deal with the latest scandal around the Guptas is emerging. Straight-faced and vehement denial of any wrongdoing, by the party and/or the president - even to the point of denying any personal knowledge of someone like Mentor, is one such option. Deny, deny and deny. The louder the better. And why not - has denial not worked well so far?
Remember how the security cluster investigation into the Guptas’ aircraft landing at the Waterkloof Air Force Base found no political head had been responsible for approving the landing? The then-chief of state protocol at international relations, Vusi Bruce Koloane, and one Lieutenant Anderson were made to shoulder all the blame and slapped with temporary suspensions.
Koloane is now a South African diplomat in Europe and the Guptas have not been investigated. The furthest the security cluster could go was to say that “some of the persons involved were driven by the undesirable practice of the exercise of undue influence and abuse of high office”. The other “person” to blame was the practice of name-dropping by business people.
It is possible that in the next few days we may see unprecedented levels of attack on the Guptas by the ANC as an organisation and by some ANC cadres in particular. Such an attack would be part of the process of apportioning all blame solely to the Guptas.
Indeed, some simplistic notions of “Gupta state capture” that are floating around lend themselves perfectly to a wholesale scapegoating of the Guptas - as if they exercise undue influence on high office completely and totally by themselves.
Will South Africans fall for this trick again, or will they and the ANC draw a line in the sand this time?
The casting of aspersions on the motives, timing and integrity of Jonas and Mentor, among others, signals the possible employment of yet another familiar tactic.
In terms of this tactic, the ANC family member who breaks the narrow and unwritten commandments of the ANC family, even if they do so in the service of the national interest and in deference to our constitutional democracy, are isolated, discredited and severely punished.
I hope that this time around the ANC will realise that this is not a family matter, but a matter of national significance.
It has been suggested in some disagreeable quarters that the strong reactions to Jonas and Mentor’s revelations is the result of South Africa being captive to white monopoly capital (which has allegedly long captured the state) as opposed to the poor Gupta family (pun intended).
To support this argument we have been served a list of big monopoly capital corporations and families who control far more than the Guptas - as if that makes it okay for the Guptas and their cronies to “have some”.
I find this argument rather depressing. It is as if we accept an unprincipled state, a corruptible government and a compromised president as inevitable so that all that is left to debate is the size, colour and nationality of their partners in crime. It is perhaps testimony to the extent to which Guptology has become the new normal.
This kind of thinking, where corruptibility is a starting point in our theory of politics, governance, business and socio-economic arrangements, is precisely what I call Guptology.
For Guptology to ensue and thrive, it is not necessary for Ajay, Atul and Rajesh to be present. All that is necessary is an acceptance of the principles of corruption, whether the corruption is with so-called white or Western monopoly capital or with capital from the east. Once the principles are accepted, the faces and role-players may change, but the name of the game remains Guptology.
It is impossible for any black South African to bracket or filter out the loud tone of a native commissioner’s report with which RW Johnson’s second and most recent How Long Will South Africa Survive is riddled.
Nor does Johnson think much of people agency, especially the agency of black people as makers of history.
Crediting all major political changes in South Africa, past, present and future, to Western geopolitics and its markets, he suggests that “South Africa is now heading fast for another investment crisis which will in turn end in another regime change”.
Johnson suggests that in Zuma we have a chief rather than a President. Although Johnson’s truth is served in a bowl of contempt and condescension, we can only ignore his warnings at our peril.
* Maluleke is a professor at the University of Pretoria. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @ProfTinyiko.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent