Opinion

Ramatlhodi's reasons for confronting corruption show why we must never surrender to the deadly grip of the python

02 December 2018 - 00:06 By ranjeni munusamy


Of all that has been said and written about state capture, there is perhaps no better description of the Guptas' relationship with former president Jacob Zuma than that of ANC veteran Ngoako Ramatlhodi at the Zondo commission this week.
"It was like a python which had wrapped itself around him," Ramatlhodi said during his testimony on Wednesday.
Ramatlhodi said some members of the ANC national executive committee had tried to impress on Zuma that his relationship with the Guptas was unhealthy.
"We would say to him: 'This relationship of yours with these guys is toxic, why don't you end it?' "
He said Zuma would reply: "Those people are my friends because they helped my children when I was persona non grata."
It is astonishing that Zuma's motivation for "auctioning off" his executive authority, as Ramatlhodi put it, was so basic.
Ramatlhodi's evidence confirmed what former intelligence heads Gibson Njenje and Moe Shaik told the Sunday Times in September - that Zuma rebuffed their warnings about the Guptas being a threat to national security by saying they were the only people willing to help his children.
So the relationship between Zuma and the Guptas was a "mutually beneficial symbiosis", the term used by judge Hilary Squires to describe the former president's relationship with Schabir Shaik.
Despite him being fired as deputy president and facing corruption charges over his relationship with Shaik, Zuma replicated the formula with the Guptas, this time to extreme levels - allowing them to dictate the composition of his cabinet and loot billions from the state.
Zuma needed Shaik and the Guptas to help him take care of his large family, which he could not afford to do. Eventually greed took over and he had to surrender his dignity and his presidential oath.
Ramatlhodi, who worked among the giants of the liberation struggle, was deeply pained at the extent of the betrayal of state capture.
Speaking of the Guptas' landing of a jet full of wedding guests at Waterkloof Air Force Base, which he said had to have been authorised by Zuma, Ramatlhodi said: "That for me was the last insult. I mean it was a stab in the back for those who died, because there were many who died when I was there with them."
Explaining to deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo how the Guptas used the power they derived from Zuma to "show off", Ramatlhodi said: "They were disrespectful of the president of the country, they were disrespectful of us. That is the essence, they were totally disrespectful."
How was Zuma not able to recognise this, or did he simply not care?
The answer speaks to the psychology behind submission to corruption. Even with financial incentives, it necessitates really low self-respect to accede to instructions to participate in corruption.
Another ANC veteran, Cheryl Carolus, described in her testimony at the commission how Malusi Gigaba, then public enterprises minister, was instrumental in aiding state capture, to the point of lying to parliament and sabotaging SAA.
"The minister was at best negligent and at worst, in fact, hostile. It was shocking where SAA ended under Mr Gigaba," she said.
People close to Gigaba speak of the pressure he was under to do the Guptas' bidding, and say the environment at the time did not allow him to say no. It will thus be interesting to see whether Gigaba will continue to justify his actions or admit to this pressure when he appears before Zondo.
With so many people surrendering to state capture, it prompts a greater appreciation of those who were able not only to resist being corrupted but also actively fight against it.
Ramatlhodi says he told Zuma to tell his son to stop calling him when Duduzane was pestering him for a meeting with Ajay Gupta. Not many people would have had the guts to tell the president that, especially with the knowledge of how the financial welfare of his children dictated his actions.
For Ramatlhodi to expose Zuma and his son's role in state capture could not have been easy. He has a long history with them from the days of exile. As a senior leader of the ANC, it is extremely difficult to lay bare their participation in corruption at a judicial commission closely watched by the nation.
But as an advocate, Ramatlhodi would know how essential it is for the commission to know the truth and have all the facts about the machinery of state capture.
Duduzane Zuma was a key player in facilitating contact between political players and the Guptas, and even though Ramatlhodi says he saw himself as an "uncle" to him, he resigned himself to exposing his role.
Even now, with all that has happened in our country, there are people who feel entitled to loot and remain confident that their corruption will remain hidden.
It takes courage to speak out or write about corruption involving the politically powerful as there are always consequences.
The lesson for us all is that it is better to take that chance than to allow the python to hold you in its grip.

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