Cape Town - 3 November 2016

The constitution of the country and the legislation that flows from it is designed to regulate the behaviour of the citizens of the country, enable and authorize key institutions and direct the behaviour of the officials charged with directing these institutions of state. The way the resources of the state are allocated is also subject to a process that is enshrined in law.

It is of great comfort to us the ordinary citizens to know that this this process exists and that there are consequences for those who transgress the law. Our comfort is based on the fact that:

  • The system will make sure that the best person is appointed to do the job for us
  • The person will adhere to a set of values and principles which is consistent with our constitution and our norms as a society
  • That they will do the best deal for us
  • The appointed individuals will treat the tax revenue from our efforts with respect
  • A fair system will prevail in that all individuals who invest and equip themselves to do business with the government will have a fair and reasonable chance to provide the government with services or products
  • All the points above will contribute to a better life for all South Africans and the each generation will be better off in terms of quality of life, than the previous one.
  • It will be the exception rather than the norm that the integrity of the process gets challenged

It sounds idealistic and naïve but, this is what the laws of South Africa makes provision for and insists on. So in this case it is not idealistic for society to expect this, it is what has been promised to us by the founding fathers of the new South Africa. It is a dispensation that many paid a great personal price for, to enable and bring it about.

I have come to define the common term and expression of “state capture” as, when, individuals, companies or organisations deliberately set out to work against the spirit of the constitution and the laws it enables, to manipulate the institutions of the state for their own comfort and benefit and in direct contrast to the stipulations of the laws and the values of our society. When they direct their energies to profiteer at the expense of us, “the people”. Quite rightly, the debate surrounding this set activities defined as “state capture” has opened significant debate and the questions it has surfaced are:

  • Is it a new phenomenon attributed to the post 1994 government?
  • Is it a feature of black business?
  • Is it wrong and are making more of it than we need to?

Of course it is not new, and it is not a feature of the post 1994 government. A feature of the pre- 1990 economy has been the fact that no more than 8 companies owned 80% of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, they were exclusively white owned, except for pension funds which served black pensioners, who held shares in these companies. Most of these businesses counted the government as a key client and entertained these government clients on expensive junkets. These companies influenced the policies of government, the appointment of ministers and the allocation of resources, AND it is exactly why the new constitution was negotiated and written to ensure a definitive break from this seedy past.

The establishment of a credible revenue collection agency in the form of SARS, was key in establishing the ability of the state to get its fair share from the gains of these companies in order for them to fund the society we all hoped to be part of. Chapter 9 institutions were created in order for us to have protection against the inevitable abuses that a system such as ours would lead to.

In short, we agreed to new set of rules if you wanted to play on field “SA”. These rules were necessary to break from the past, to create a new social ethic, and to fund a new order.

It is not a feature of black business, it is a global phenomenon that is tragically pervasive in developing economies where the scramble for wealth by some far exceeds their desire to live in a peaceful society. It is tragic that emerging businesses who operate in a system that is often so heavily stacked against them, resort to corrupt means to advance their ambitions. This is as much an indictment on them as it is on the system that limits access to what in some instances has become a club. This then becomes the rationale and justification for “capture” a euphemism for corruption.

Is it wrong? Hell yes its wrong for a whole host of reasons.

It perpetuates a system we are trying to break free from as a society. It reinforces a set of unspoken rules, that you must be an insider to succeed. It reinforces the view that success will only be achieved if you take away from someone else or manipulate the system to get ahead.

For a system to work there must be the belief and the evidence that the system can and does work for all who work within the rules and who have the requisite ability and ambition, when short cuts and undermining the system becomes the norm the incentive to work within the rules is no longer appealing.

It is wrong because it undermines the power of the system to take care of those who do not have the ability to help themselves at the expense of those who can. When the system works, drives innovation, efficiency and ingenuity that helps move a society forward and improve the quality of life for each successive generation.

It is wrong because it destroys the hope we have, that through our efforts and a fair system we have the ability to lift ourselves from poverty and pursue a better life.

 It is especially abominable when the people elected to ensure the integrity of the system and are tasked with its improvement and evolution to better serve us allow a select few to plunder and destroy the very system we are building brick by brick and generation by generation.

It is therefore incumbent on us as civil society to remain vigilant and move to action when these abuses become so apparent to us.

Crispin Sonn is a business person, a director of companies and an activist for social change. He was part of the student and youth movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

He is the chairperson of Foodforward, an NGO which feeds 150 000 people a day, across SA. He is a founder member of the SA 1st Forum a civil society organisation that is committed to helping all South Africans find their voice and hold public office bearers accountable to their promise and oath of office.


Related Articles:

Tony Ehrenreich weighs in on State Capture Report

State Capture - nothing but an attempted coup d'etat by opposition

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