Steinhoff vs the Guptas: Putting things into perspective


Ayanda Mdluli

JOHANNESBURG- Over the last week and a half, the purported racialization of corruption in South Africa’s (SA) economic landscape has come under scrutiny –  where the Steinhoff scandal has drawn interesting parallels with the infamous Gupta family which has been implicated in a number of shenanigans relating to state capture.

The underlying question is; what has been the difference between what Steinhoff’s CEO has done in comparison to what the Gupta family is being accused of.

The allegations of fraud and corruption levelled against Steinhoff’s CEO Markus Jooste are damning and have major implications for many black people in the country.

He is said to have deliberately withheld important information from investors for about R13.5 billion worth of transactions with a related company, despite laws stating that it is required to divulge financial dealings with related companies.

On top of this, the Public Investment Corporation’s (PIC) exposure to the fraud is sitting at R12 billion, which also saw the R184 billion of the market capitalization of the company being completely wiped off the markets.

Furthermore, it is unclear what the total losses of Jayendra Naidoo’s Lancaster Group are in the company. Lancaster group is Steinhoff’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partner where Naidoo is the sole beneficiary.

He was given a loan of R9 billion to buy a 2% stake in Steinhoff by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas.

Deafening silence

Organisations’ such as the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), Black First Land First (BLF) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have taken action against Steinhoff earlier this week, opening cases and calling for the arrest of the company and its entire board.

Funny enough, organisations such as Save SA and OUTA have been remarkably quiet in addressing the prevailing issues at Steinhoff – which is a clear-cut case of selective outrage because these entities are very vocal against the black faces of government.

What is even more astonishing is the silence of SA’s opposition party political leaders such as the DA’s Mmusi Maimane and the EFF’s Julius Malema as well as the big four banks of SA.

Even Pravin Gordhan whose speeches always start with unpacking state capture has gone to ground. When the Gupta family was given a dressing down for its role in destabilizing the South African economy – the banks of SA were quick to announce that their bank accounts have been shut down, putting the jobs of thousands of people at risk. The move was so well orchestrated because it all happened simultaneously like some kind of domino effect.

The Guptas are alleged to be involved in irregular activities in state capture amounting to some R680 million. Yet, when a company with a lily-white board of directors is implicated in even worse examples of market abuse and fraud allegations that total to hundreds of billions, the banks of South Africa have stuck to their guns to ensure that their accounts remain open and receive all the necessary support to bounce back into the black.

Even the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), which says that it is currently investigating Steinhoff has refused to halt trading on the listed entity in the markets. This does not come as a surprise as most of the entities listed in the JSE are designed to maintain the status quo and safeguard the tentacles of white privilege in the corporate space.

What is most disturbing is the silence and inaction of the EFF which has positioned itself as a collective that aims to end economic apartheid and bring economic freedom to the people in our lifetime.  It is baffling as to why its firebrand leaders like Malema have not been swift in calling for a complete boycott of the company’s operations, consumer products and trading on the JSE.

While busy playing deejay and buck dancing to the Distruction Boyz smash hit Omunye Phezu komonye at Mbuyseni Ndlozi’s graduation party, Malema seems to have forgotten about his pledge to his constituency to help fight against the widespread looting of the little that blacks have – by greedy white-owned corporates.

Power and proxy wars

The corruption at Steinhoff has far-reaching consequences. The company’s collapse has, directly and indirectly, affected millions of pensioners, workers and future generations of black people who have been left poorer as a result of the widespread corruption in that business.

Secondly, the South African political climate is heavily backed by private sector entities who are playing proxy wars in the battle for control of the South African economy. The fight used to be about the battle for the soul of the ANC, as eloquently put by author Mervin Gumede, but I would like to counter argue that since the dawn of democracy, the ANC has always been operating as a party without a soul. It lost its soul during the Codesa negotiations which further entrenched white supremacy and continued the economic disenfranchisement of black people in SA. Economic apartheid is still alive and well.

The Gupta family is guilty of trying to punch above its weight in the proxy wars of the country. There are many politicians in the dominant party (ANC), as well as opposition parties who are in the pockets of various private sector entities such as Naspers, Steinhoff, Remgro and many others who have direct and indirect interests in media entities and outlets that shape public perception and the opinions of ordinary folks like you and me.

In fact, the narrative has been so powerful that anyone who even questions the status quo is insulted, shamed and given all sorts of labels such as “Gupta Bot” or “Zupta” for merely expressing a different ideological disposition or political conviction that highlights the true extent of state capture.

No one disagrees about state capture being a reality in South Africa, but the extent of it or how deep the rabbit hole goes must not be ignored. The ANC inherited a bankrupt state that was looted whites who are the direct beneficiaries of ill-gotten wealth in South Africa. These people must be held accountable in SA and telling us to get over it is just not enough. More needs to be done and these beneficiaries must be prosecuted and put in jail for these commercial apartheid crimes.

These same white men have influence over a wide range of cartels in construction, retail, financial services, media, agriculture, mining and FMCGs.

They make hundreds of billions of rands off the backs of black consumers year in and year out. These white men have the power to destabilize our economy and control the fluctuation of our currency. If you dare hold a different ideological disposition that goes against their narrative, they have the power to kill your dreams and aspirations in your professional career. They also have the power to kill you economically as a black man. Like I have said once before, and continue to say again, they have the power to take your house, your car and your whole life like a thief in the night. They even have the power to manipulate our currency.

This was proven by the Competition Commission’s findings on how our banking cartels have been manipulating our currency for decades. These same institutions are sitting on trillions of rands and are not investing in the township and rural communities because they do not want blacks to succeed. The rules of white supremacy dictate that blacks must always be kept at the bottom of the economic ladder in order to keep the structurally entrenched institutions of white power in place. That is the true power of racialized corruption, where the “boytjies” are protected by their institutions while those who disrupt the status quo remain demonised.