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The Zumocracy: How Jacob Zuma Runs The Country

The leaked Gupta emails reveal how the president stays in power through a complex network of patronage and political manoeuvres.

Ferial Haffajee , Editor-at-Large

The trove of leaked Gupta emails ricocheting across the news and into the South African imagination offers a rich seam to understand how President Jacob Zuma runs South Africa.

After eight years in office, he has evinced a style of government that can be called a Zumocracy. Over a period slightly longer than his time in office, President Zuma has survived nine scandals through a set of practices that immunise him from accountability.

The trail of deniability

First, the president ensures there is no paper trail, or in the case of the leaked Gupta mails -- there is no email trail to him.

The Sunday Times reported that President Zuma directly asked Jacinto Rocha, then a senior civil servant in the department of mineral resources, and tipped as an advisor to former Transport Minister Ben Martin, to favour his son, Duduzane Zuma. But Presidency spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said: "The Presidency has no knowledge of the said allegations relating to the changes in the national executive of government."

Since the emails emerged, this has been the Presidency's standard response. Zuma's intelligence training means nothing can be traced to him, and he ensures his actions always have plausible deniability.

Mr Nuclear and other confidantes

In February this year, HuffPost SA, with amaBhungane, reported that numerous officials said Senti Thobejane, ex-advisor to former Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, had been deployed as a presidential representative. In the energy department, he was known as "Mr Nuclear" and officials believed his task was to deliver the nuclear deal.

Despite being advisor to three consecutive ministers, Thobejane disappeared suddenly, reportedly after botching relations with the Russian frontrunners to win the nuclear contract.

Zuma has said Cabinet ministers choose their own advisors in crucial departments, but he exercises great leverage over appointments.

In addition, President Zuma influences appointments of the boards of public companies and places close confidantes on them: until last week, Ben Ngubane ran Eskom and previously the SABC; at SAA, the chairperson is Dudu Myeni who runs the President's personal charity; while his close ally Ellen Tshabalala previously chaired the SABC board and resigned in a scandal around her falsified qualifications.

Enter the stooge ministers

In April, the ANC Treasury-General, Zweli Mkhize, revealed a development in the Zumocracy: the President is increasingly acting alone.

"Unlike previous consultations which take place with senior officials of the ANC during such appointments and changes to the composition of the national executive, the briefing by the President left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre and thus depriving the leadership collective of its responsibly to advise politically on executive matters," said Mkhize.

The President thus exercises control over the portfolio, and elicits their personal fealty. Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Desmond van Rooyen (whom the President tried to make finance minister in December 2015) and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, are sterling examples.

The trio are laced through the leaked Gupta emails. Muthambi reportedly sent Cabinet memorandums to the Gupta network; Zwane travelled with the family to Switzerland to help them strong-arm the Optimum mine from Glencore, while Van Rooyen took a mystery trip to Dubai on the Gupta dime, soon after being made finance minister for a weekend.


Muthambi, Van Rooyen and Zwane were all provincial politicians before being plucked and placed on the national stage, into portfolios where manipulating them has proven as easy as jacking a phone in downtown Joburg.

A defence of kitchen cabinets

Last month, the State Capacity Research Project launched a report called "Betrayal of the Promise: How the Nation is being stolen". It states that "Zuma tends to govern via a set of 'kitchen cabinets' comprising selected groups from different networks". These are small informal reference groups, or shell structures, that are convened temporarily, as required.

Intelligence Minister David Mahlobo, another provincial politician without profile, was elevated into the centre of power and now occupies a role as powerful as a prime minister to President Zuma.

These kitchen cabinets explain why nothing of substance has happened in relation to the two reports on state capture and the unassailable evidence contained in the emails: the President has placed loyalists throughout the security and criminal justice establishment to ensure he is not investigated or prosecuted.

In 2017, the Zumocracy's last two sets of resistance were neutralised. First, a weak public protector was appointed after a nomination from the ANC caucus at Parliament. Second was the President's Cabinet reshuffle at the end of March that removed former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. The Treasury had stopped big deals by using its powers over procurement and spending contained in the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act.

Gupta Brothers interview

The SA Revenue Services (SARS)'s reputation as a bulwark against corruption was thwarted with the appointment of Commissioner Tom Moyane, who was seen with Duduzane Zuma. The emails reveal Duduzane to wield enormous power over how the state is run -- with the Gupta family, he symbolises the most important of the President's various kitchen cabinets.

Something you can eat

Faced with a growing chorus of allegations that he facilitated state capture, a corruption where patrons infiltrate the state, President Zuma chose the narrative of failed economic transformation to define his presidency in 2016 -- and to provide state capture with a counter narrative.

The President's view of the economy and economic policy differs from the ANC and the government, as contained in the Budget. These policies place transformation of ownership and wealth at the centre of thinking. However, last year, the President broke with highlighting the remedies in the National Development Plan and the various black empowerment laws and initiatives, like the Black Industrialists plan. He presented a rather different picture on various platforms.

"In the whole world, whether you go to India, you will find Indians in charge of their economy, if you go to China, the Chinese are in charge of their economy, if you go to America, the Americans are in charge of their economy, it is the same with the English, Germans and anywhere else, including here in Africa. If you go to any African country, Africans are running their economies", said Zuma in November 2016 at a cadres' forum.

"It is only here in SA where people indigenous to the country are not in charge of the economy. That would be us," added Zuma.

The Rich List, published by McGregor's "Who Owns Whom" and Business Times in December 2016, appeared to prove his point as it revealed only a handful of black people and women had made it to the top ranks. Ironically though, the Rich List showed the president's patron, Atul Gupta, to be South Africa's richest black man by listed wealth.

President Zuma has increasingly peddled the view that the ANC is without power. Late last year he said: "A state has three pillars which support it. If you don't know that, the country will one day fall on top of you and squash you. In English they say the state has three pillars. Political power, which we have, enables you to win elections. You can write the law with this power and run the country. The second pillar is money matters or the economy. The third pillar is defending the country or what is called the security of the country.


"If you have not properly grasped all three, your power has an expiry date. It will start to weaken... This is what happens after 20 years where things change and political power can no longer grow. If you have political power but do not control the economy, it means that there are people who are in charge of something serious.

"Those in charge of the economy try to influence those with political power. Unfortunately, those who have political power have that alone, you cannot eat political power. Those in charge of the economy have something they can actually eat."

With about two years left in office, the Zumocracy has decided you can't eat political power and that it is time to get something you can actually eat.

9 Ways To Buy A Country

As more gob-smacking revelations of state capture hit South Africa like an ocean current with smashing waves, it is becoming clear that our country has been bought. Here's how to buy a country in nine easy steps.

The A To Z Of State Capture

Three comprehensive sources paint a near-complete picture of one aspect of state capture. These are former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's 'State of Capture' report, the State Capacity Research Project's 'Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is being stolen' report and the #GuptaLeaks or #GuptaEmails trove of leaked emails obtained and reported by AmaBhungane, Scorpio and TimesLive. Here is a thumbnail from A to Z of what we now know.


African National Congress (ANC)

The governing party's name is peppered across the emails. The ANC Youth League and the MK Military Veteran's Association (MKMVA) had scripts about the country's economy written for them by PR company Bell Pottinger, to deliver on behalf of the Gupta family. In addition, the family provided airtime for ANC members in the Free State. The ANC is divided on the family: Gupta supporters deny malfeasance while for years detractors have worried that the family was a kitchen cabinet to party and President Jacob Zuma.


Bell Pottinger

Global PR firm Bell Pottinger plays a significant role in the #GuptaLeaks. The company created a powerful propaganda campaign against "white monopoly capital" to cover up the state's capture. This campaign leveraged the country's racial inequality to divert attention from the Gupta network's accelerated profiteering in 2016 and 2017. It also included a component against former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, laying the ground for his axing.

The Guptas are beneficiaries of South Africa's various black-empowerment laws, though they never suffered under apartheid. Atul Gupta first arrived in SA in 1993, a year before the transition to democracy. The family presented itself as a leading outlier company in black empowerment.

Billionaire businessman Atul Gupta


Corruption Watch
This anti-corruption organisation may go to court to declare the Eskom directors delinquent for failing to follow due diligence, according to evidence that emerged in the leaked Gupta emails.

He is called the CEO of Sahara Computers, but Ashu Chawla is really Gupta fixer-in-chief. Many leaked emails are to or from him and they reveal that he ran the logistics of the Gupta network. Chawla facilitated the payments, travels, requests and favours on which network functioned.



The Gupta family and their lieutenant, Salim Essa, staged an audacious bid to offshore and privatise the state-owned defence and aerospace conglomerate's manufacturing expertise in a company incorporated in Hong Kong. Within weeks of being appointed, Denel chairperson Dan Mantsha sent his outstanding rates bill, estimated at R15,000, to the Gupta offices -- ostensibly to have it paid.

This glitzy emirate is the Guptas' seduction hub of choice. They have taken numerous Cabinet members, parastatal executives, and children of politicians they courted, to Dubai for the holidays.



The Gupta family and their lieutenants were active across the economy. This included aviation, defence, IT, management consultancy (its part-owned company, Trillian, has won hundreds of millions in Eskom and Transnet contracts), media (supported by government advertising), mining (coal and uranium) and transport (the provision of trains), among others.

Three Eskom permanent and acting CEO's are proven to be deep in the Gupta family's pockets. The former acting CEO, Collins Matjila's CV was circulated in the Gupta network prior to his appointment. Former CEO Brian Molefe was in close contact with the family and various transactions now prove that he favoured their interests. The acting CEO Matshela Koko enjoyed the family's hospitality in Dubai and he is now suspended for suspicious transactions with another Eskom contractor.

Salim Essa. This Houghton and Dubai-based businessman is the biggest beneficiary of deal flow from the Gupta network. As a middleman, he allegedly made R10 million on each of the 359 trains won by China South Rail during Transnet's refurbishment. Do the math. It's a lot. This baby-faced huckster escaped relatively unscathed from the scandal but has been a rainmaker for both his own pocket and the Gupta family's.


Fox News And Its SA Equivalents

ANN7, the Gupta family's 24-hour news channel co-owned with the President's son, Duduzane Zuma, is South Africa's version of Fox News in the US. It is a sledgehammer of a channel with a clear partisan stance, and anchors and analysts who push a line meant to neutralise the critics of state capture. The family's The New Age newspaper is a better platform to grow their brand: its coverage of all provinces is often interesting and their interests are skillfully laced into the editorial message. The #Guptaleaks emails also show the family tried to buy the Mail&Guardian, Primedia and a part of Iqbal Survé's Independent News.


Gupta Brothers

The emails show how the three Gupta brothers divvied up Gupta Inc. Their business empire is run by employed executives operating under the brothers' firm grip. The eldest, Ajay Gupta, is the brain. Former government spokesperson Themba Maseko revealed that he is also a henchman, unafraid to threaten and call in their patron, President Zuma. Ajay threatened Maseko when he would not advertise in The New Age. The middle brother, Atul Gupta, is more outgoing and can be likened to a chief marketing officer. Tony Gupta has emerged in the emails as a chief operating officer, the guy who makes it all happen and who controls payments.



The Guptas use hospitality to build their empire. Their substantial estate in the Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold buzzed constantly with important political visitors who were reportedly welcomed like VIPs and treated to the family's culinary delights. Once they showed an interest, this was followed by trips overseas. Then they were hooked.


Informal Power

Crony networks that accumulate fortunes through state capture rely on informal power networks across the state and in the parastatals. These informal power groups assume control outside of existing laws and practices.



Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas let the Gupta genie out of the bottle when he blew the whistle on the family's attempt to offer him the finance minister position in 2015, before the then-incumbent Nhlanhla Nene was fired.

Mcebisi Jonas



Matshela Koko is the now-suspended acting CEO of Eskom. He is portrayed as giving crucial inside information to Gupta informants he called "The Boss". He also gave massive coal orders and prepayments to the family's company, Tegeta, which holds its coal assets.



China South Rail Hong Kong is reported to have paid a business development service fee (perhaps a fancy word for bribes) to Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa for helping them win part of a Transnet locomotives deal. China is in the midst of a massive anti-corruption drive.



Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has, since his appointment in September 2015, been key to the Gupta's mining interests. With his political intervention, or interference, they became players in coal mining by purchasing Optimum from Glencore. The mining charter that was passed into law last week seems to favour the family's significant mining interests.



Six Cabinet members can be said to be in the Gupta network, according to the #Guptaleaks and the two reports. Alongside President Jacob Zuma, they are: Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown; Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi; Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Desmond van Rooyen; Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane; Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.



The Oberoi hotel in Dubai is the Guptas' playground. They have hosted many of their political conquistadores at this 5-star hotel and footed the bill.



It starts with Essop Pahad, the Minister in the Presidency under President Thabo Mbeki, who introduced the Gupta family to South Africa's political life. They bankrolled his monthly journal, The Thinker. He is now part of the ANC stalwarts who are calling for an urgent intervention in the ruling party.

Essop Pahad



The Gupta family does not queue. The emails show they used former Home Affairs Minister and now Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba to help them become naturalised South African citizens. In addition, Gigaba ensured that they had access to Home Affairs staff who became the family's private assistants at postings in Delhi and Mumbai.


"I need to get more white ladies," wrote an events manager in response to the Gupta family's request at their controversial big fat Bollywood wedding at Sun City. Their niece, Vega's, guests were to be waited on hand and henna'd foot by "caucasian" staff. Black staff told City Press in 2013 that the guests behaved in racist ways toward them and they were made to scrub up before starting shifts. "It would be in neither of our interests to bring in white staff for your very important guests," wrote the manager of the spa at Sun City to the family's runner, Ashu Chawla, who had visited the resort to set up the wedding.



Tokyo Sexwale, the former Gauteng Premier, Fifa executive and ANC luminary, is right in the middle of the Gupta story. He once acknowledged his friendship with the family whose matriarch gave him achaar (spicy Indian chutney). He is the chairman of Trillian, the management consultancy and capital-raising arm of the Gupta empire, majority owned by Salim Essa.

Anoj Singh is CFO of Eskom and previously held the same role at Transnet. While his former boss and friend, Brian Molefe, takes the heat for his questionable roles in facilitating for the Gupta family, Singh is a bagman to keep under scrutiny. As CFO, he signed off on contracts at Transnet and Eskom that enriched the family and their lieutenant, Essa. He has escaped attention.

State-owned enterprises
While the Gupta family, with Bell Pottinger, developed the line that less than one percent of their turnover came from government spending, this clever spin hid the parastatals' roles. The family and their cohorts built fortunes from their connivance at Transnet, Eskom and Denel. Transnet and Eskom are responsible for the biggest slice of procurement.



This publicly owned transport behemoth was, and possibly still is, at the centre of the Gupta network's aggrandisement. The new-freight-trains purchase enriched Salim Essa, while his company with Eric Wood, called Trillian Capital Partners, largely took over the Transnet treasury until it was fired by CEO Siyabonga Gama.

South Africa's President Zuma Launches Trans African Locomotive

Trillian Capital Partners
This company, chaired by Tokyo Sexwale, predicted former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene's axing and reportedly wrote a job description for a new finance minister, according to a whistle-blower. The company has also won mega-contracts at both Transnet and Eskom, moving from one to the other in tandem with former Eskom CEO, Brian Molefe.



Energy and transport, two essential utilities, are at the epicenter of the network's efforts at capture. South Africa is spending billions on rebuilding its electricity and freight systems and the Gupta family, with their acolytes, saw opportunities here.



In addition to Dubai, the Gupta brothers enjoy visiting Venice, Italy. They took Free State Premier Ace Magashule's sons, Thato and Tshepiso, along with President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane, on a trip to the canals in December 2014. An instruction in the emails to their hotels was that their mini-bars be locked, though.



CEO of Trillian Capital Partners, Eric Wood, has a PR company on call and it objects left, right and centre to the portrayal of Trillian as a suction of funds out of Eskom and Transnet, where his people captured the treasuries. He audaciously wrote a job description for the minister who would replace Nhlanhla Nene – before he was axed. Wood has refused to cooperate with an inquiry into Trillian instituted by its chairman, Tokyo Sexwale.



You won't see all the emails. The editors trawling through them say they contain some explosive material that cannot be made public.


Youth League
The ANC Youth League is shown to be captured by the Gupta family network. The Youth League's president, Collen Maine, is living in a house bonded for him by the family and their political scripts were written by Bell Pottinger, the Gupta's PR honchos.


Zuma, Duduzane

The president's son, Duduzane, is writ large across the emails. He is the connection between the Gupta family and his dad. The emails suggest he is a playboy with a glitzy lifestyle and a Dubai residency permit.

Zuma, Jacob
President Jacob Zuma is not found anywhere in the emails, yet he is everywhere. The family leveraged their friendship and access to the President to build their fortune and eventually capture the state.


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