About three years ago, following the unmasking and subsequent demise of Bell Pottinger at the bitter height of the Zupta-led state capture, the ANC’s spokesperson at the time went onto all media interviews he could attend to express disgust at this foreign company that arrived here to sow racial division and – wait for this – undo the gains of our post-apartheid achievements, or something along those lines. Tito Mboweni

What the man didn’t and wouldn’t say at the time was that Bell Pottinger, a spin doctoring agency, didn’t wake up one day and decide on its own to head to our shores to sow racial mayhem. Someone, or a group of people, called it.

Agencies do not employ themselves. They get invited by paying clients with an agenda. And, usually in the case of campaigns such as the one Bell Pottinger had been commissioned for, they get paid a monthly retainer upon submission of monthly progress reports.

They would also have discussions with their clients about what is working and what is not, as well as propose further actions to be taken in the following months to keep the campaign going in line with the brief. The paying client would have to be happy with such proposals and sign off on them.

In my experience, agency briefs are not unwritten ‘gentlemen’s agreements’, sealed with a simple handshake. Any agency account made in such a way would have to involve some dirty work that should never have to be traced back to anyone, but I have never come across any.


Suspicious accounts

In another occurrence, when the four main South African banks decided to close Zupta company accounts because of their growing criminal and reputational toxicity, the ANC’s then Secretary-General, together with the party’s head of economic policy, didn’t say much in public. But, has since emerged, they Nicodemously summoned several bank representatives to Luthuli House – ANC headquarters – away from the glare of the public and, reportedly, questioned their motives for closing the criminally suspicious accounts.

They’re also reported to have tried to convince the banks to change their minds about closing the abovementioned accounts. Clearly, the men concerned either did not care about what the Zuptas were doing to the country, all under ANC cover, or that they never cared because, it’s safe to argue, a lot more would have been at stake for them. In other words, they knew something the rest of us didn’t.


Enter Bosasa

Fast-forward to February 2019. Bosasa, now known as African Global Operations, finds itself in a similar place to the Zupta companies when the banks decided to close their accounts, for pretty much a similar category of reasons; suspected criminality; fraud, money laundering, and inevitable reputational toxicity.

This is a company that many have suspected for many years, though without direct proof, to have enjoyed a strange, symbiotic, relationship with the country’s ruling elite, at collective and individual levels.

Once again, key political players are coming out to feign surprise and ignorance.

Trade Unions seem more worried about losing members when the company gets liquidated than about the crimes that were carried in its name. The Gauteng premier – he who didn’t know anything about Life Esidimeni happening right under his nose until the body count became public – has come out guns blazing, demanding that all existing African Global Operations contracts with the provincial government be investigated for wrongdoing and that action be taken where such wrongdoing is found to have taken place.

There are no questions anywhere about how the criminality could have lasted for so many years without anyone knowing about it.


Falling for the trick

This is what our politicians have become adept at and, sadly, many still fall for the trick. They’re like criminals who march with aggrieved community members in search of either the missing bodies of the victims or their killers, shouting the loudest and pretending to be as angered by the crime as everyone else, if not more.

In recent years, they’ve also known to have mastered the art of marching against their own party, a party whose decisions they make.

The truth is that African Global Operations, Bell Pottinger, Zupta companies and others, like KPMG, Bain & Company, SAP, and others that have been reputationally damaged by their involvement in criminality, have had enablers in the system.

In addition, almost hidden from such well-packaged and branded crimes are many others going on all the time behind-the-scenes. These are crimes committed by the tenderpreneurs of our times, in cahoots with corrupt government employees, when they buy products in the open market and sell them at several times the original price to government departments without adding any value to them.

There are too many cases of people being paid several millions of rands out of limited government funds to deliver a service or product that could have cost a lot less had it been purchased in the open market and allowed the government department involved to stretch its budget a lot further in order to deliver more services to the people of South Africa.

To regain domestic and global confidence and to grow a truly inclusive economy, South Africa needs a new deal. This new deal must include a restructured Eskom, as promised by President Ramaphosa, and a bigger acceptance of the role that must be played by economic and sectoral disruptors such as Independent Power Producers and renewable energy.

The country also needs small businesses, which are good for any economy, as they contribute massively to the reduction of unemployment and poverty, instead of a community of “rebranders” and “resellers” who add no value.

South Africa must grow its economic pie by investing in the kind of research and skills training that enables people to develop new ideas, business ideas of the future, in order to absorb more players into the economy.

In delivering the first Budget Speech of 2019, ahead of the elections, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni should be the independent thinker he’s known to be and say something about structural constraints, anomalies and our bad habits.

The legacy he leaves behind should be that of articulating things that need to be said but that many, including trade unions and other reactionary groupings afraid of change, do not want to hear.