The South African mainstream media’s narrow obsession with the Zuma and Gupta families may be detrimental to the country’s socio-economic justice debate

Corruption in South Africa

The Financial Times recently published a good overview of the questionable relationship between the Gupta and Zuma families. It is one of the better written among a multitude of articles that have been published on the subject.

However, the South African mainstream media’s narrow obsession with the impending Zupta-geddon may be taking attention away from a much broader issue – the question of how the country’s marginalised masses perceive the meting out of socio-economic justice since the end of political apartheid.

Especially when confused apologists for apartheid wrongdoings come up with nonsense statements like the following:

There is a difference between a relationship between politicians and business where certain businesses are favoured to win “arms’ length” contracts, and a relationship designed to loot the state, where a contract is awarded at a grossly inflated value, with the sole intent of personal enrichment at the expense of the tax payers, with some trusted businesses / politicians sharing in the loot.

The insinuation that apartheid-era government business was conducted at arm’s length is not true as the handing of a monopoly pay-tv licence to apartheid supporting news group, Naspers has shown. A pivotal event that has secured the company and its shareholders billions in wealth.

The quoted statement follows a popular sub-narrative among privileged bigots in South Africa that apartheid (read ‘white’) corruption was small scale, fairly innocuous and it’s all in the past anyway. This is of course a blatant lie, spread to protect privileges and assets that were gained due to apartheid policies.

It can also be said with some certainty that collusion by white-owned companies with the apartheid regime has laid the historical foundation for endemic corruption under the ANC government’s auspices. The extent of corruption during the apartheid era has been covered in-depth by Hennie van Vuuren, the Programme Head: Corruption and Governance at the Institute for Security Studies, in his publication, Apartheid Grand Corruption.

Van Vuuren has also written eloquently about the long tail of apartheid corruption in an article for Business Day in which he stated:

Where corruption has been excluded from the transitional justice agenda, either by design or oversight — such as with SA’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission — the problem festers. Those networks stay in business, and rather than face justice they invite members of the new elite to the table.

Therefore it can be said that apartheid corruption never went away – it has merged with the current kleptocracy and siphoned billions away into foreign bank accounts.

The fact that South Africa never had a proper Economic Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Tribunal for economic crimes committed during the apartheid era, has helped to entrench a culture of unaccountability which has led to the current brazen looting of public funds that should have been used for socio-economic development.

Since South Africa’s marginalised masses did not see real socio-economic justice prevail for apartheid-era misdeeds, why would they hold the current government accountable at the ballot box? They have either decided that their lives are still better than under apartheid or exited the democratic process via voting apathy and violent demonstrations.

The denial by privileged South Africans and other cynical vested interests that apartheid-era corruption and cronyism did not exist on a grand scale – the ill-gotten gains of which continue to enrich a small minority in a massive and undue manner – is contributing to the increasingly polarised, antagonistic and intractable public discourse in the country.

It is time for mainstream media commentators to let go of their self-delusional hubris and myopic agendas in exchange for pragmatic and transparent engagement. As for the media-consuming public, it is time for them to hold those commentators accountable for the verity and sincerity of their utterances. Otherwise the average South African will continue to foot the bill for the intransigence of the select few with access to mainstream soapboxes.