The beginning of hearings by the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture marks an important moment in the fight against corruption and the restoration of moral values among our public representatives.
The grim truth about state capture is that unless it is defeated, it can become the death knell of our democracy and the wellbeing of our people.
But what is state capture, and what is its extent and severity of the evil?
When a small, powerful group of power-hungry and greedy people take control of key parts of the core structures of a society, such as the most powerful politicians, the police, public broadcasting, criminal prosecution, and above all, access to taxpayers’ money in order to benefit themselves corruptly at the expense of the nation, and by their having captured key law enforcement institutions, avoid prosecution, you have state capture.
The capturing could grow to deadly extremes such as it happened under Stalin, Hitler and apartheid.
Free and fair elections, independence of the judiciary, true justice, media freedom and trustworthy media, among others, all go out of the window, being replaced by a ruthless state and a climate of terror and fear among citizens.
Economic activity suffers with only a few being able to take part and benefit. The majority are reduced to mere underclass servants of the power-hungry clique.
The definition of state capture should not be restricted to the theft of taxpayers’ money or resources. That is only a part.
Elected leaders are captured when they abdicate or “outsource” their legitimate authority to persons who have no right to exercise such power.
The captured lose their souls and any semblance of self-respect when they become victims of blackmail by the captors.
Because such cliques flout the ethical principles of truth and justice, that are essential for national wellbeing, and because they serve the interests of just the inner circles of its loyal toadies, they carry with them the seeds of their own downfall by their alienating the majority of the citizens.
The upsurge of civil society activism against state capture is symptomatic of a nation that has had enough.
The fall of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe at the hand of his once closest protectors and allies, the military and his vice-president; the fall of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi machinery; the fall of the might apartheid with its powerful army, among several other examples, are a sign that state capturers do not last forever.
What we have in South Africa, so far, is much less extreme, but it is still a deadly danger of everything decent that people hold dear.
Most frightening is the fact that no one could predict where the phenomenon was heading, before it was stopped by courageous whistleblowers, such as Mcebisi Jonas.
Living in an environment of state capture, here is where we were headed:
• The stealing of state money means robbing the poor, with the knock-on effect being the inability of the state to function in ways that will create employment, alleviate poverty and develop our society;
• The deviated resources would mean less being used in providing medical care, because the state would not afford essential health facilities. Many people who could only afford state medical facilities would die. This would be tantamount to culpable homicide.
• Fewer funds would be available to schools and universities – thus state capture would be robbing the minds of our learners of the knowledge and skills they will need to find work and achieve a reasonable quality of life. The nation would be poorer with an uneducated workforce.
• A captured state would pervert justice, with a knock-on effect on encouraging everyone to flout the law and do crime with impunity. The Bible warns us all, whatever we believe, that without justice, the people perish.
• State capture encourages the grave mistake that of believing that loyalty is more important than integrity, where criminal state capture gangs thrive on the support of those who put loyalty before integrity. Integrity means consistent honesty and fairness, without which a society cannot flourish.
• Democracy is undermined in state capture, thus ensure that structures of the state function without integrity and independence.
Defeating state capture
The Zondo commission is an important step in defeating state capture.
Most importantly, however, is for us all to rise and be counted in the fight to eradicate the disease.
We need to understand, first, that our hard-earned democracy and decency are at war, under attack by state capturers. Things are that serious.
There must be sustained pressure on all those that we know to be involved in state capture.
This means that we cannot leave it all to Zondo, we must come out to the streets in peaceful demonstrations to bring home to the corrupt that the decent majority is fed up and will not stop till the get their just deserts.
We also need to bare in mind that state capture can happen at all levels of our government – national, provincial and local.
To borrow from Jonas, there could be a Gupta in every municipality. Thus, there should be vigilance across our governance system.
Since this is a monstrous violation of essential ethical values, and since religions are important carriers of such values, the leaders of our faith communities and their members now face a critical moment of truth.
Otherwise, they will be weighed and found wanting. This is what some Christians call a Kairos moment and it is no less urgent than the one that some of them faced bravely and acted against apartheid a generation ago.
An even greater responsibility rests on those in the ruling party who have the legal power to effect change.
They must absolutely do everything they legally and ethically can to rid us of this deadly virus.
As we celebrate 100 years of Madiba’s birth and 20 years since his call for an RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) of the Soul, we cannot falter by continuing to feed and tolerate unethical and patently criminal deeds.
» Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa is chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement