The mechanics of state capture explored 

Billions have been stolen from the state due to corruption and collusion, but many still don’t know how or why – this book seeks to change that. 

Every day South Africans are feeling the brunt of over R49 billion of public money lost to state capture, as money meant for essential services has been used to enrich politicians and their networks.  

The new book State Capture in South Africa: Why and how it happened, is the product of nearly five years of research from the group of authors. In it, state capture and its impact are analysed with a fine-tooth comb.  

On July 18, 2023, co-editors Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Peter Vale launched the book at Exclusive Books, Rosebank. A discussion with three of the contributors interrogated how and why such a large amount of money was stolen since around 2008, when the Gupta brothers repeatedly secured lucrative deals with a number of key state-owned entities.  

Contributors included professor at the Wits school of law, Jonathan Klaaren, researcher at the Public Affairs Institute Devi Pillay, and journalist turned researcher Reg Rumney. 

(From left to right) Pater Vale, Devi Pillay, Jonathan Klaaren, Reg Rumney, and Mbongiseni Buthelezi discussing some of their key findings as to how and why state capture occurred at their book launch on July 18, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne

Defining state capture  

The definition of state capture itself was widely contested, as it presents differently in various parts of the world. What was agreed upon was that most countries have experienced some version of it.  

Broadly defined, it is the process whereby private individuals (like the Gupta brothers) influence legislative and/or procurement processes through their connections to political actors (like former president Jacob Zuma). 

Co-conspirators and the shadow state 

Pillay focused on the middleman role played by professionals, such as auditors like KPMG, in state capture dealings. She said they “use their specific skills to benefit a third party” at the expense of the state.  

“Professional firms legitimize corruption and operate secretly…with inherent conflicts of interest,” added Pillay. 

Klaaren unpacked the concept of state capture as being the contestation of a constitutional and shadow state. The former is a state where the power of the government is limited by laws, while the latter is the power wielded by private individuals and vested interests, who can manipulate state apparatus.  

Media capture  

Rumney argued that by capturing the media, one could capture the minds and hearts of the public. This is exactly what the Gupta brothers sought to do so through their own media companies, including ANN7 and The New Age. 

“People still value democracy, which is why authoritarians keep up the illusion of it” said Rumney. This was seen by the attempts at starving independent media of state advertising and taking over the ownership structures of “independent” publications (which the Gupta’s attempted to do) to control the narrative and evade accountability.  

“A weakened media is much more prone to state capture…[however] private and donor funded media is why [the state is] still surviving,” said Rumney. 

The evening concluded with questions from the audience, most of the which were if the country was fully captured. The panellists argued that only partially, as it is true that ailing institutions with massive budgets, like Transnet and Eskom were captured, however crucial institutions like the Treasury and the Reserve Bank were not – despite desperate attempts.  

The panel warned that if these institutions fall victim to state capture, that is a fast track to a failed state.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The product of 5 years of research, proudly displayed in front of a packed audience at its launch at Exclusive Books in Rosebank on July 18, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne

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