Godfathers Keep ANC Elite in Style
The revelation that Jacob Zuma has been a wholly owned subsidiary ever since 1995, with even his children's pocket money paid for by Schabir Shaik, has shaken public opinion to the core, but the questions which this poses go off in many directions.
Why did it take the publication of a charge sheet for this to come out? What has the press been up to all these years? After all, Shaik used to go round boasting that he owned Zuma.
Also, when this relationship began Zuma was kwaZulu-Natal MEC for economic affairs and tourism. One of the key projects to emerge in that period was the multibillion-rand proposal for La Mercy International Airport.
Given that this came under the tourism portfolio and that then minister of transport Mac Maharaj is now also being fingered a fresh look at that project would surely be in order. Has the Nkobi set of companies got the inside track there too? But, equally, are we really supposed to believe that none of this was known to African National Congress (ANC) insiders when Zuma was nominated for the deputy presidency in 1999?
Personally, the current row takes me back to a conversation I had with one of the editors of the Weekly Mail (as it then was) in early 1994. Had he not noticed, I inquired, how many leading ANC figures had quickly acquired godfathers who were paying their way? Mandela had been provided with a palatial mansion by Douw Steyn. Sol Kerzner was making free with lavish hospitality for the whole ANC leadership so much so that the Mafikeng ANC branch had passed a motion criticising Thabo Mbeki for his "perceived over-closeness" to Kerzner.
Mbeki himself had acquired a BMW almost as soon as he returned to SA. Cyril Ramaphosa was being taken through upmarket fly-fishing resorts by Sidney Frankel. A number of ANC leaders already had children in expensive private schools. And so on.
It was perfectly clear what was happening, so why was the Weekly Mail not covering it?
On the eve of the first black government, I was told, the paper was determined to avert its eyes from such stories.
I recall another conversation at that time with a leading trade unionist. He explained to me that he and his comrades had always taken it for granted that they would be poorer than their peers and that this was part of the struggle. Then, however, they had met the returning exile ANC leadership and realised with shock that many of them were well off and intending to become seriously rich.
"The effect was explosive. From that moment on all the comrades wanted the same. Corruption within the unions really took off," he told me.
The interesting point here is that if you had suggested to any ANC activist during the struggle that their passion included a certain degree of self-interest, you would have been indignantly told that he/she expected no reward and that their activism was entirely a matter of principle. Now, however, the first reason always given why the same person should have this job or that contract is that this is the reward they deserve for their role in the struggle, exactly contradicting the previous statement.
This being SA there is, of course, also an ethnic point. We know that the presidency is largely in the hands of the two Pahad brothers, with Aziz looking after external affairs and Essop effectively the country's prime minister.
We also know that Parliament is in the hands of Frene Ginwala. So is it really a surprise to discover that our enterprising Asian countrymen have captured the deputy presidency too?
Johnson, former Oxford academic and former director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, is a freelance writer.
With acknowledgement to Bill Johnson and Business Day.