Final Word

State capture, grand corruption and theft from the people

State capture.jpg

The phenomenon of state capture, walking hand-in-hand with corruption, presently dominating the South African political scene, goes back to at least to the time of king David of the Bible.

As the formal structure of states changed over the ages, the tactics of the corrupt adapted to the realities or their day, but at its core it remained the same.

The phenomenon got its modern-day name, state capture, and its most accepted definition as, the domination of policy making by private, often corporate, power somewhere towards the middle of the 20th century.

We could not find a date of when the term was first recorder, but according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as part of a debate about of the pluralist theoretical framework in political science.

The pluralists held that a multiplicity of interest groups in the state household prevents any particular group from being dominant – creating a sort of balance of power.

However, the reality is that not all interest groups operating in society has access to resources, be it the state’s tax income, or those who generate most of that tax income – businesses, and in the world of today especially big corporations.

This gives the world of business, especially big business much more power than any other social group and, gone is the balance of power, in steps practices like bribery and corruption. The result we today call “state capture.”

Nothing new

If we now go back to the days of king David, we read in the first chapter of the book of Kings I of the Bible how his son Haggith used military power in the form of 50 guards, and chariots and horses to attempt to “capture” the state by declaring himself the new king.

Along the way there is also the spice of some lovely influential ladies and some bribery with the sacrifice of some sheep, cattle and fattened calves – inviting those he thing could promote his cause to the feast at “the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel.”

Reading this passage it is not difficult to see some similarities to what is today happening with a particular family at Saxonwold near Johannesburg, an armoured vehicle, a shebeen, a massage parlour and regular visits by important, influential guests.

And, like in the state capture game in South Africa today, there were also then different powerful factions coming into play.

In king David’s time, in the end the state capturer was defeated and lucky to escape with his life, and so might happen in South Africa of today.

Modern manifestations  

In the works of the late 15th, early 16th century Italian philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli – especially in his Il Principe (The Prince) of 1513, we find a blue print of how rulers could, or should, survive the attempts at the capture of city-states by the Roman Catholic Church.

In the present-day, so-called globalised village with its many emerging economies (including South Africa), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) describes state capture as “a form of grand corruption.”

The IMF declare: “In transition economies, corruption has taken on a new image—that of so-called oligarchs manipulating policy formation and even shaping the emerging rules of the game to their own, very substantial advantage. We refer to this behaviour as state capture.”


At the heart of it, in democratic states, is that governments get a mandate from the voters to manage the affairs of the state to the best possible advantage of the majority population.

The word mandate has been around in the English language since the early 16th century, deriving from the Latin word mandatum, indicating something that is commanded. It can also be interpreted as an authoritative order by a superior authority.

If that mandate gets ignored or transferred to an entity other than the elected representatives of the people, it amounts to grand theft from the people – property to be transferred back to the people by either an election or revolutionary force – especially if the election is stolen as well.

by Piet Coetzer

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