Guptagate, crises and contempt for the public. By Raymond Suttner

It is clear that very few people believe government’s explanation for the illegal landing of the Gupta wedding party at a key military installation in Waterkloof. There are very few people who accept that the handful of individuals who have been fingered would undertake such a massive breach of security on their own. This is not simply a breach of protocol. This is a military and intelligence matter, whether or not the Indian High Commission and Ambassador Koloane did or did not commit irregularities, now denied by India. An aeroplane entered air space, we are told without being detected by our intelligence services and landed at a key military base. All the elaborate allusions to ‘Notes verbale’ and other diplomatic niceties are by the by.

My impression is that Radebe and other cabinet ministers did not expect their explanation to be credible. They did not make a serious attempt to diminish the widespread suspicion of government and indeed the president’s complicity in the series of actions surrounding the Gupta wedding.

If this impression is correct, it is symptomatic of a broader trend to treat the state and its resources as being accessible to the president, his allies and friends in a manner that is akin to their private property.

Clearly when this breach occurred it was learned behaviour, behaviour that has followed the ethos at the top, behaviour, which was instructed by or calculated to please their bosses. Whoever is responsible in the Guptagate scandal acted with a sense of doing right by the president. Who does what and under what authority does not appear to matter in the Zumastan/Guptastan attack on democracy.

Slavoj Zizek speaks of contemporary threats and crises of democracy not always being in similar form to Nazi fascism. He refers to the obscenity and obliviousness to legality in the Berlusconi period as one of the manifestations of contemporary crises of democracy.

That may be one way of understanding how we should grasp the multiple crises that befall us at this time. That there is no serious attempt to allay the public’s suspicions over Guptagate and many other scandals appears to suggest contempt for the electorate and any meaningful democratic accountability to the public.

The crisis of democracy in South Africa is not only akin to the decadence found under Berlusconi. There are also crises of legality, constitutionalism and violence. The inception of the Zuma presidency was in the wake of his facing hundreds of charges of corruption, which were suppressed on legally dubious grounds, through the use of, leaked, classified tapes.

Despite this close shave with the law, little caution was shown in the years that followed. The way in which state resources are used and distributed shows little sense of the distinction between what belongs to the state and has to be handled under prescribed regulations, and what is for private use by those who at this time hold office. This is illustrated in a short video clip, to be found on the city press website at the time of the Mangaung ANC conference.

This footage depicts Zuma entering the business lounge of the ANC in Mangaung. He is shown a solar powered toilet and puts his hand into it. He then says to the distributors that he will be going down to his village shortly, and asks whether they can send some of these toilets down as a pilot project. The distributors appear surprised but the president is quite serious and his aide Lakela Kaunda takes down their details.

This encounter may seem bizarre but it illustrates how the president is oblivious to procedures that govern the performance of his duties. He does not appreciate that he cannot simply commission a pilot project, however big or small on the spur of the moment

Obviously this is a minor example of processes that have bypassed procedures and often enriched many close to the president and others in high positions.

While this is happening the people who elected this government, with continuing loyalty to the ANC despite many disappointments, are being treated with contempt. Those without water, sanitation, educational and health facilities are counselled to be patient and when this patience boils over they are shot at or arrested. This is not apartheid South Africa, but those who are killed, those who are imprisoned, those who are without decent living conditions remain the same as under apartheid, primarily the poorest of the poor, the black people and Africans in particular. They are over-represented amongst the dead and imprisoned as before

Apartheid rule is no more, but democracy is under serious attack, the early gains of post-apartheid South Africa are not being maintained or expanded. The air is thick with pseudo revolutionary slogans and accusations of counterrevolutionary conduct. But there is little concern over lives being squandered and absence of serious debate.

Raymond Suttner blogs at

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