Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan says that the fight against corruption is being hamstrung by the politics of disruption. This week, those politics came to the door of the State Capture inquiry as the EFF sought to disrupt his testimony. The fightback starts with the EFF, but it doesn’t end there.
For two straight days, EFF members protested outside at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry, upping the ante on Tuesday and the volume so much that they could be heard all day like a drone as Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan gave testimony.
By doing so, they created a distraction from his testimony, the endpoint of a campaign to discredit his evidence.
“There is a phenomenon of a fightback (against the fight against corruption) by those engaged in malfeasance. It’s a politics of distraction using modern technology so that the spotlight does not fall on you (the malfeasant),” Gordhan told Judge Raymond Zondo as he began his testimony on Monday.
At a written 68 pages, the testimony is the most in-depth and excoriating account yet presented at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Gordhan is the second sitting Cabinet minister to testify. His account covered his two terms as finance minister and it analysed, often for the first time in the public domain, almost the entire period of former President Jacob Zuma’s administration.
It is the fullest account yet of State Capture, as defined in the commission’s terms of reference, because it also deals with how state-owned enterprises fell into the hands of crony networks and how Zuma pushed for three specific contracts the state could not afford.
These were the R1-trillion nuclear deal; the purchase of Engen from Petronas for PetroSA; and the Airbus swap negotiated by SAA but which its chairperson Dudu Myeni wanted to change to bring in a middleman which would have nullified the swap. All of these deals were potential minefields for the South African economy which stuttered almost to a halt in the high period of State Capture between 2014 and 2017.
Gordhan’s testimony provided insight into each of these attempted contracts as well as shedding light on how Zuma used Cabinet reshuffles to execute State Capture.
Yet, his testimony was overshadowed or disrupted by the EFF protest. The campaign of disruption or distraction started three weeks ago when Gordhan’s testimony was leaked. This leakage allowed the EFF to attach a narrative to his testimony and to create a campaign of disinformation around it. With early access to his account, the EFF tried to suggest that Gordhan lied about his interactions with the Gupta family.
Out of a 68-page testimony, the party created an online campaign that focused on one section, paragraph 123, which started, “I had forgotten of another instance where one of the Gupta brothers may have been present at a meeting I had with billionaire Indian businessman Anil Ambani…”. From this, the EFF campaigned for Gordhan to resign by triangulating that answer with a previous reply to a parliamentary question on whether he had ever met the Gupta family.
The party built those responses into a social media campaign which went viral and made it into the mass media, thus disrupting the narrative of State Capture that Gordhan is testifying about by diverting into what is, in fact, a non-issue. As a result, for almost all of November, the EFF set the tempo of how Gordhan’s testimony would come to be framed.
And then, on Tuesday, the party further disrupted the story of State Capture and deflected it when party leader Julius Malema launched a full frontal attack on the commission when he called evidence leader and head of legal Paul Pretorius a “bastard”. He warned that the commission risked becoming a “Mickey Mouse” one because it is renting space from media company Tiso Blackstar, instead of running it more cheaply out of a government “hall in Randburg”.
Why the EFF sought to distract and disrupt the commission is a question yet to be answered by the party which has chosen the streets rather than the inquiry itself to lob missiles at Gordhan and now at a key official of the inquiry.
Gordhan’s testimony on Tuesday revealed that he had, in fact, avoided and evaded the Guptas; his office had binned the invitation to the family’s Bollywood spectacular themed wedding at Sun City in 2013; he had refused meetings with them. The family’s influence had played a big role in Gordhan being fired in March 2017 and he had to go to court to get a declaratory order saying he could not interfere in the banks’ decision to close the Guptas’ accounts.
What is behind the politics of distraction?
According to Gordhan:
“It is to ensure that elites and small groups of people become beneficiaries of extractive practices and stay elites. The disenchantment with elites is how – be it in politics or in business – populism becomes a factor in the rise of the right and this right-wing sometimes comes disguised in left-wing rhetoric.”
He said his view was that there was a fightback by these elites against the clean-up campaign being conducted by the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
This clean-up is concentrated largely in the South African Revenue Services where the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into tax administration has seen Tom Moyane lose his job as commissioner and in the state-owned enterprises where Gordhan has taken a scythe to boards and to management suites as patronage networks are ripped out of Eskom, Transnet, Denel and SAA.
“There is big capture and small capture where CEOs or chief financial officers develop their own clients and supply them with money, so that if you are in trouble, you defend them. You get this masking effect and counterattacks,” said Gordhan.
EFF chairperson Dali Mpofu is the lead defence advocate for Moyane and attended the Zondo Commission of inquiry on Monday. The party has put its weight behind Moyane and behind axed Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama, although Malema on Tuesday sought to create distance between Mpofu’s two roles.
“(When he is at work) Dali Mpofu is not EFF. His firm is not a firm of the EFF. He is doing his job. We are not with Tom Moyane,” said Malema on Tuesday.
Daily Maverick twice sought comment from the EFF on its approach to the commission and its campaign against Gordhan. The party referred Daily Maverick to a one-minute clip of Malema speaking and did not respond thereafter.