When the forward-looking Harry Oppenheimer invested £40 000 in the African National Congress during the Rivonia Trial, he knew that it was just a matter of time before the trialists became leaders of a gradual post-apartheid South Africa. That was actually the analysis of Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service which advised the South African government to not seek the death penalty for Nelson Mandela & Co. because it could need them in a future when a new political dispensation was negotiated.
When Mandela was released from prison 27 years later, he found his marriage to Winnie Mandela in tatters. As a result, he moved out of the matrimonial home and into a house at a well-appointed residential address that was owned by Oppenheimer. When talks for a democratic South Africa were convened at a political circus that was the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) unfolded at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park, parallel talks about how the economic make-up of a new South Africa were quietly convened far away from the madding crowd. Only when the latter concluded and in favour of the ruling minority, was the green light given to the CODESA negotiators to seal a political deal. When Mandela became president, he found himself in a new prison – the pockets of Oppenheimer and other purveyors of what South Africa now calls white monopoly capital. Six years later, the World Bank coined the term “state capture.”
The Bank used this term to describe a situation where small corrupt groups in Central Asia used their influence over government officials to appropriate government decision-making in order to strengthen their own economic positions. This was in 2000 and from then until an Indian family sentenced President Jacob Zuma to prison inside their pockets, “state capture” was virtually non-existent in SADC’s vocabulary.
Going back to 1909 when South Africa became independent of the British, the early iterations of white monopoly capital used their influence over government officials to appropriate government decision-making in order to strengthen their own economic positions. That neat arrangement was disturbed a century later when Zuma became president. As far back as the early 2000s when he was still Thabo Mbeki’s Vice President, Zuma had commodified political power for personal benefit. Upon becoming president, he did so with unparalleled impunity. That was how he came under the spell of Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh Gupta, scions of a (literally) filthy rich Indian-born family with vast business interests in South Africa. In the process and as regards control of the state, the Guptas effectively knocked white monopoly capital off its pedestal.
At the height of their power, the Guptas appointed cabinet ministers and during one infamous episode, landed an Airbus A330 at an air force base owned and operated by the South African National Defence Force. Hopefully no major Botswana Democratic Party donor has landed his private jet at the Botswana Defence Force’s Thebephatswa Airbase west of Molepolole. The Airbus landing and many more incidents led to the use of “state capture” to describe the Gupta family’s control over Zuma’s administration.
It is important to note that it was South Africa’s white-owned media that first used a term coined by the World Bank to describe how Zuma had ceded control to the Guptas. As used in South Africa, “state capture” referred to an Asian’s family sway over a black president. The influence of South Africa’s media is very strong in neighbouring SADC countries and resultantly, “state capture” is now part of Botswana political vocabulary.
“The real cause of drug shortages is state capture and corruption by largely naturalized Indians and other foreigners owned companies and cartels which government seek to give exclusive rights to supply drugs,” said the Leader of the Opposition, Dithapelo Keorapetse, when responding to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s 2022 state-of-the-nation address.
A little history is as useful in the case of Botswana. That which the late Paul Rantao tells in an issue of the long-defunct Political Diarist is that as Botswana prepared for home rule, farmers in the Tuli Block area formed a party called the Tuli Block Democratic Party to protect white economic interests. However, even they were aware that in terms of electoral support and in a black-majority country, the TBDP was a non-starter. Thus, its leaders shopped around for prominent blacks they could use to front for them. The search bore bountiful fruit and the party was renamed the Bechuanaland Democratic Party – which later became the Botswana Democratic Party after independence. An Australian historian called Dr. John Kirby (no relation to the former President of the Court of Appeal) asserts that Botswana was basically created for whites. The fact that whites own land around cities and towns while most blacks are landless is a direct result of a party founded to protect white-economic interest still being in power.
Following the discovery of diamonds, Oppenheimer extended his political influence to Botswana and in his book, former minister, David Magang, gives an insider’s account of just how influential the South African tycoon was.
Interestingly, “state capture” has never been used to describe how TLDP morphed into BDP or of how Oppenheimer controlled the Botswana government the way Magang describes in his book.
All this time, Asians had been amassing a lot of power and more continue to stream into Botswana. There is a past in which you would buy at a supermarket, pharmacy, hardware and bookshop that were all owned by South African-origin whites. Today, most of the owners are Asian. As whites before them, these Asians are using their influence over government officials to appropriate government decision-making in order to strengthen their own economic positions. Following the South African example, Batswana call this phenomenon “state capture.”
Keorapetse’s use of “state capture” is remarkable in one ironic respect. Ahead of the 2019, a South African Indian called Zunaid Moti captured the leadership of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. In Keorapetse’s case, the capture manifested itself in a vivid, almost literal sense: a picture of him practically caged within Moti’s airborne jet as he tucks into a plate of colourful snacks served by a white stewardess on Moti’s payroll. Keorapetse accusing the government of being captured is a lot like the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency accusing administrators of the Chevening Scholarship of being unimprovably biased in favour of BDP members.
The capturing, such as it is, is central to the enterprise of electoral democracy and affects all political actors, both within and outside government. In order to create a mirage of inclusion, the masses participate in an elaborate, all-day PR gimmick called an election. The electoral campaigns of the candidates is financed by the elite and after the election, the latter appropriate government decision-making in order to strengthen their own economic positions. While not so called, in the US this state capture has been formalised through a legal, if odious process called lobbying. Never once has the western-controlled World Bank referred to lobbying as state capture.