Political Watch

Collapse of the Zupta Empire


Like so many empires before it in history, the Zupta Empire and its associated forces are collapsing, and key forces of South Africa’s democracy can take a bow.

It can’t be long now before the over-lords of that empire fly out of the country for the last time. And, our guess is that the plane won’t be departing from the Waterkloof air force base.

With the evidence of the empire’s misdeeds and rule by corruption stacking up day-by-day, public anger burning ever higher, its key supporting forces like PR-company Bell Pottinger (BP) and audit firm KPMG under siege and financial institutions like banks and the Johannesburg stock exchange abandoning them, their capital of Saxonwold is no longer the idyllic retreat it used to be.

Some of the empire’s hired guerrilla forces, like the organisation Black First Land First, is still trying to mount some resistance, but the real war is just about over.

However, the broad South African society, and its hero forces – like the media and civil organisations – will have to stay alert to ensure that the emperors do not escape with too much loot. There is also a heavy duty resting on the shoulders of official institutions to shift their attention to the retrieval of that loot.

It is also important that all available avenues, including internationally, is explored to gain such retrievals and, the perpetrators brought to book.  

SA democracy won the day

What has happened to the empire and its cohorts in South Africa, is neatly summarized by an article in the United Kingdom’s  Globe and Mail this weekend about BP.

The paper, under the headline “British public relations agency Bell Pottinger meets disaster in South Africa,” wrote:

 “Bell Pottinger, one of the world’s richest and most powerful public-relations firms, has made its fortune by burnishing the images of the autocratic and the notorious, from Augusto Pinochet of Chile to the First Lady of Syria and the repressive regimes of Belarus, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“But the London-based agency, founded by Margaret Thatcher’s former spin doctor, may have finally met its match in the free-wheeling democracy of South Africa. When it secretly devised a racially divisive campaign on behalf of President Jacob Zuma’s son and business cronies for a fee of about $170,000 a month, the campaign soon spiralled into disaster; and they conclude:

“Unlike the authoritarian regimes where Bell Pottinger has often worked, South Africa has a thriving democracy and a vibrant media and civil-society sector that could fight back against the foreign-orchestrated campaign.”

Now, a British citizen who grew up in South Africa, has started a petition process which is very likely the to become a UK parliamentary inquiry into BP’s affairs. They made an apology with the feeble excuse that the Gupta’s misled them, but all indications are that their troubles have only just started.

To this, in typical British parlance – masters of the understatement – one can only say: “It could not have happened to nicer guys!”

However, BP is by far not the only subject of collateral damage from the nearly decade long rule of the Zupta empire. The international audit firm KPMG is in serious trouble for ignoring the spending of public money on a R30-million Gupta wedding extravaganza. To this can be added a string of other destroyed political, institutional and organisational reputations and legacies.

Collapse and deconstruct

While, in history, empires mostly collapsed in chaos others went through a more orderly process of deconstruction, the British Empire being the prime example.

In the case of the Zupta Empire and its substructures it would seem as if the ‘deconstruction’ process is taking place as far as the African National Congress and its political alliance is concerned.

Stress in the alliance has been evident for some time now, but the deconstruction might become ‘official’ this week, if the South African Communist Party at its national conference decides to go their own way.

There are also other worrying signs of the stress in the ANC, like the uptick in political related violence and even murders. In the interest of stability in the country the ‘deconstruct process’ is probably the preferred one with the final say left to the voters in the 2019 general election.

Judged by how the Zuma faction, and him personally, was managed at the party’s policy conference – beaten in battle after battle, but accommodated in compromises – the ‘deconstruct process’ seems to have a good chance of playing itself out.

Final thoughts

Against the background of what happened at the ANC’s policy conference, there is renewed interest in what might happen during the vote of no-confidence in President Zuma that lies ahead; and it would be interesting to see how strong the emperors’ loyalties are and who would be with them on their plane when it finally leaves our shores.


by Piet Coetzer & Garth Cilliers

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