/ 1 February 2019

We colluded in our land dispossession

Lekota completed his transformation from United Democratic Front activist to Ruckus when he asserted that no land had been stolen by white people in South Africa
Lekota completed his transformation from United Democratic Front activist to Ruckus when he asserted that no land had been stolen by white people in South Africa, writes the author.


One of my favourite Facebook profile pictures is a caricature of Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota as Uncle Ruckus. His right eye is replaced with a cartoonish white bulge, and he gets a thin white moustache and hairline. It’s hilarious, clever and apt.

Uncle Ruckus, if you don’t know, is the modern, TV version of Uncle Tom, and is the main antagonist in the animated show The Boondocks. He is a lover of everyone and everything white and would be considered a self-hating black — except for the fact that he doesn’t think he’s black. His explanation for his skin tone is that he suffers from re-vitiligo, the opposite of the pigmentation condition that progressively turns black skin white.

In the first season of the show Uncle Ruckus is a long-standing resident and general handyman of Woodcrest, an idyllic middle-class American town. He is the only black person until the Freeman family rolls into town. During their first neighbourhood barbecue, Ruckus welcomes the family by serenading the crowd with a song of his own composition: Don’t Trust Dem New Niggers Over De.

Lekota completed his transformation from United Democratic Front activist to Ruckus when he asserted that no land had been stolen by white people in South Africa. In so doing he guaranteed that Cope would probably never win another black vote in any election.

But our own Uncle Ruckus is, at least in one respect, correct. The land was not stolen, it was given (although this requires a somewhat generous redefinition of the meaning of the verb “to steal”).

Indirect evidence of this was given at the Zondo commission into state capture these past two weeks. It tumbled out of the mouth of a white man who reminded us that, when the story of our dispossession is told, it would have to encompass the full extent of our own collusion, it must account for our blinding greed and our collaboration with our dispossessors in return for meagre personal gains.

Angelo Agrizzi has blown through the commission like a Highveld storm, disrupting what, at least in the minds of some, was meant to be an inquiry into the Gupta family. The former chief operating officer of Bosasa Operations has reminded us that bribery, corruption and the phenomenon of state capture predate this commission, Bosasa and the Guptas; it is far older than the founding of this tarnished democracy 25 years ago.

Agrizzi has named several high-profile government and ANC figures, linking them directly to specific and detailed acts of bribery and providing the kind of forensic detail that will be hard for the law enforcement agencies to ignore. This last point is important. We have known, or reasonably suspected, for a long time that Bosasa was no ordinary business. The shenanigans have been in and out of the headlines for a decade.

The Special Investigating Unit report on the company’s bribe-paying was written and completed in 2009, and handed to the National Prosecuting Authority that year. Yet, for a decade not a single person has even been questioned by law enforcement, let alone prosecuted. The report gathered dust for two years before its sordid details became public. Not only have there been no consequences for Bosasa and its executive mafia, the company also continued to thrive off the state. Today, Bosasa, now called African Global Operations, holds state contracts worth more than R1.5-billion.

Now we know why. Politicians, public servants and even state prosecutors, alleges Agrizzi, have for years been taking payments from Bosasa in return for two things: a) the award and renewal of lucrative government tenders and b) protection of the company from investigation, prosecution, blacklisting or any other possible punishment for their crimes.

Among those named are Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane (previously the Gauteng MEC for safety and liaison and then premier), fired South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane, and ANC MPs Vincent Smith and Winnie Ngwenya (both previously members of the portfolio committee on correctional services). And ultimately the Godfather himself, Jacob Zuma and his trusty consigliere, Dudu Myeni.

Mokonyane has always been in the Zuma corner but, so far, she has distinguished herself only by some dim-witted public proclamations in defence of her tainted leader (“if the rand falls, we’ll just pick it up”; “we will defend Msholozi with our buttocks”, etcetera). No direct links to looting for personal benefit, until now. Perhaps I am naive, but I had even begun to think that she was one of the few true disciples, in the Zuma camp because she was a believer in whatever convoluted philosophy Zuma claimed as his mantle. Alas no. According to Agrizzi she is, like all of them, another grubby rent-seeker on the take for a measly R50 00 a month and a Christmas grocery list.

There are a few things that Agrizzi’s testimony tells us about the state, the ANC and, in the end, about us. First, the state was not captured — it was given away. It may despise and mock him now, but the ANC has indirectly vindicated Uncle Ruckus Lekota’s historical revisionism. If our forebears gave away their country in exchange for useless trinkets, their supposedly more sophisticated descendants have faithfully kept up the wretched tradition and mortgaged the state for little more than a case of whisky and a side of beef.

Second, Agrizzi has disrupted a certain narrative, which holds that we are hyper-focused on the Guptas and ignoring the corruption perpetrated by white monopoly capital. Here is “WMC” doing exactly as the Guptas have done, but the grasping hands on the other side of every transaction belong to the same cast of characters whose names are plastered all over the Gupta leaks.

There is no defence here; there is only the truth that our crooked political class at least believe in the portions of our Constitution that promote diversity and equal opportunity: they will take kickbacks from anyone, of whatever colour and origin.

In the final analysis, Agrizzi’s testimony is likely to lead to criminal investigations, arrests and perhaps even some high-profile convictions. Which is great.

Besides the fact that it would go a long way to towards cleaning up our body politic, it would save us all from a Helen Zille-led revolution.

We have been through a lot. The last thing we need at this point is the spectacle of Madam Zille in a Che Guevara beret leading the middle-class white masses in a tax revolt from the frontlines of her Twitter account.

Vukani Mde is a founder and partner at LEFTHOOK Solutions, a Johannesburg-based research and strategy consultancy