The decision by South African banks to shut down accounts linked to the Gupta-owned Oakbay marked the beginning of the great unravelling of the rule by an unholy alliance of members of the ruling party in concert with members of the Gupta family over South Africa.
But that decision did not go unchallenged, not by the Guptas and not by their puppets in government, either. The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture this week heard how senior members of the ANC summoned bankers to Luthuli House to interrogate their decision —and, as an aside, submit polite inquiries on the organic composition of white monopoly capital.
Two years later, it is still quite a marvel to understand how deep the Guptas’ network ran, and how effectively it was able to curry support based on the idea that they were being treated unfairly. But it is also remarkable how little sense the Gupta network made when confronted with obstacles.
At the time the accounts were closed, the ANC Women’s League slammed the decision by the banks as“colluding tactics of financial institutions”. Remember, too, that the Cabinet had constituted an interministerial committee to look into the closure of the accounts.
That committee, chaired by Mosebenzi Zwane, a recipient of the largesse of the Gupta family, went on to recommend that former president Jacob Zuma launch a judicial commission of inquiry into the closure of the accounts. Zwane also said evidence had shown that the banks’ actions “were as a result of innuendo and potentially reckless media statements and, as a South African company, Oakbay had very little recourse to the law”.
We now know that the operating licence of at least one bank was threatened by Zwane. He also threatened Standard Bank with legislation that would prevent the bank from shutting down accounts in future.
The fact that the banks are subject to supervision by the South African Reserve Bank, and can also be held to account by the National Consumer Commission, was ignored. The implication was that the Reserve Bank could not be trusted as an honest broker. And in all of this bluster, the fact that a number of transactions had been flagged by the Financial Intelligence Centre as suspicious was dismissed as conspiracy. Ministers and senior members of the ruling party were confronting financial institutions on the basis of … what exactly?
It certainly was not on the basis of any rationality —it was on the basis of an idea that an unfair campaign was being waged against the Gupta family. There were no facts, except that the media was replete with allegations of the undue influence of the Gupta family on the running of the state.
It is already offensive that people in high office could abandon their covenant with the people of South Africa for a trip to Dubai, but it is doubly so when it becomes clear that these same people could also abandon any attempt to respect the ability of South Africans to see right through them.
As the Zondo commission continues, it becomes clear that Zwane, the Guptas and the friends they found along the way all really did think they were getting away with this.