State capture the worst betrayal of the country and its people

Ex-president Jacob Zuma is said to have spent R30m in legal costs at taxpayers' expense. / Alaister Russell
Ex-president Jacob Zuma is said to have spent R30m in legal costs at taxpayers' expense. / Alaister Russell
Image: Alaister Russell

In 2018 state capture, the re-purposing of the state by public office bearers to serve narrow interests by forging corrupt relations with private individuals, has been unravelling in all its ugliness.

It is a sad tale of how a government infiltrated by corrupt individuals nearly succeeded in destroying SA's young democratic state.

That said, it is opportune that we consider the other side of this, which is a story of how the system of checks and balances embedded in the constitution has demonstrated its resilience. In particular, it is the tale of how the judiciary has withstood and even thwarted state capture machinations.

In a series of judgments, the courts have continued in the important task of confirming the legitimacy of institutional and political-legal framework that this democracy is built on.

Unsurprisingly, these involve former president Jacob Zuma who is at the centre of state capture being seen to have enabled those intent on capturing the state.

From upholding and affirming the powers of the public protector and the binding nature of its
remedial actions to declaring that in undermining and disregarding that institution Zuma had violated his oath of office, the judiciary has safeguarded the integrity and legitimacy of the constitutional democratic order.

In another precedent-setting judgment, the North Gauteng High Court ordered that the former president is liable for the legal costs of the more than a decade of litigation to avoid facing prosecution for corruption.

Zuma has made an art of using the courts in an attempt to scupper efforts at holding him to account for his role in the infamous arms deal corruption.

Having failed in his bid to have the charges against him dropped, he has ordered his legal team to argue for a permanent stay of prosecution.

He could indulge in his strategy of drawing out his legal battles because these were at the taxpayers' expense.

Once again the courts have established that individuals in positions of trust who are meant to serve the public interest cannot abuse the powers and privileges with impunity.

This use of taxpayer rands to fight the legal battles of a former president who was implicated and charged in his personal capacity is the epitome of state capture.

The high court judgment affirms the principle that money meant to finance the delivery of services and social goods should not be diverted. Those public officials facing charges should not have the option of funding their defences through state coffers.

What made Zuma's strategy all the more audacious, as the court observed, was that he opted to engage the services of private attorneys rather than use state attorneys to represent him in his legal challenges.

The former president and his defenders continue to peddle the view that Zuma is a target of a political plot by those in cahoots with "white monopoly capital" who oppose radical economic transformation - a proxy for the empower- ment of black people.

This is the insult of state capture and what makes it deplorable: those who claim to represent the interests of the poor and marginalised in our society have benefited from and enabled the looting of the very state coffers that should be applied for the development of communities and improving their lives.

Whereas we can look back on 2018 as the year the insidiousness of state capture sullied the public mood and shocked our sensibilities, it is also the year where our system of checks and balances, in the form of the separation of powers, pushed back against that evil agenda.

An independent judiciary buttressed by a robust opposition and vigilant media have shored up democracy by keeping alive the battle to ensure good governance by the leaders of a governing party that claims to uphold and represent the hopes and liberation of the people.

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