Article by Mosibudi Mangena
By Mosibudi Mangena

Commenting on the tendency of many African leaders to sell their people and countries to the highest bidder shortly after the freedom struggle, an African American fellow once remarked that if he had to do that, he would demand billions of dollars from the buyers of his country, not peanuts. He would not settle for trinkets, cars, houses or holidays at some exotic destinations.

The cacophony of noises about the capture of the South African state by the Gupta family brought this remark by the American to mind. And with that a lot of questions:

How much is this family paying to gain so much control of the state? A couple of millions? Do they just give a few shares in this or the other of their companies to some leaders or members of their families? Are they contributing to the coffers of the ruling party? If the benefits are going to just one man and his family, where is the rest of the leadership of the ruling party? Are they sleeping on the job?

Whatever amount they are paying, is that what South Africa is worth? Is the country being sold for peanuts?

The American chap was wrong by even thinking of a selling price for his imaginary country. No country should ever be for sale. In South Africa, the whole rationale for our struggle for liberation was to free ourselves from all forms of oppression and exploitation. Whilst most of us know that we have only freed ourselves from political oppression, and not economic exploitation, the Gupta saga has left some of us wondering if others in our midst are not being tripped by unbridled greed and mindless stupidity.

There have been whispers for a while that the essence of state power has moved from the Union Buildings to the Gupta compound in Saxonwold; that decisions are taken at Saxonwold and that the Union Buildings just implements; that at least some of the ministers are selected at the compound and appointed at the Union Buildings, and that ministers are regularly summoned to the compound to receive instructions.

The grapevine had it that Themba Maseko got the sack because he did not dance too well to the Gupta music. Then a plane carrying guests to a Gupta wedding landed at Waterkloof military airbase that got the whole nation jumping up and down. To rub salt into our national wound, the guests were escorted to Sun City by state security elements with blue lights flickering and sirens wailing.

The minister of minerals was moved sideways and his successor was reported to have travelled abroad to help negotiate a mining deal for the Guptas. Nhlanhla Nene was unceremoniously fired and replaced by Des van Rooyen in a move that saw the rand tumbling and capital fleeing our shores in billions of rands.

Des is said to have arrived at National Treasury to take up his job accompanied by advisors thought to be close to the Guptas. The nation bristled and spilled into the streets in major cities to protest about the take over of the Treasury by this family.

Our collective suspicions were confirmed when Mcebisi Jonas, Vytjie Mentor and Themba Maseko revealed their encounters with the Guptas and the outrageous demands they made. They offered some cabinet posts while others were pressured to spend government advertizing budgets in media owned by the family.

The questions are: how many ministers were selected by the Gupta family and how many of them and their officials are quietly doing their bidding? Apart from Nene, how many ministers were moved or fired at the injunction of the family?

Whilst we know that big business has an influence on the state and society in general, the activities of the Guptas are breathtakingly arrogant, crude, in your face and contemptuous. Landing your private passenger plane on a military base of any nation is the ultimate statement of contempt and bullying.

But it also eloquently tells us how pathetic we are as a nation. A private family walks all over our sovereignty by landing their plane at our military airports and appoints ministers and all we can do is write stories in our newspapers and talk a lot on our radio stations. One cannot think of any self-respecting country in the world, capitalist or socialist, where such a scenario would be tolerated. We are embarrassingly weak.

In the face of this, how can government leaders stand there and talk against corruption? How do you tell a traffic cop on the beat not to take bribes when leaders preside over looting on a gigantic scale?

Ultimately though, it is up to us as citizens, to make it clear to all and sundry that the country does not belong to an individual, a family or a political party, but to us and future generations. It is not for sale and there is not even a price for it.

Those in leadership positions who, like the American fellow, are possessed by the stupidity that leads them to believe that they can sell the country and its sovereignty must be strongly rebuked.

Mosibudi Mangena