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Ferial Haffajee: 5 lessons for business from Zuma's Zondo testimony

Jul 17 2019 15:27
Ferial Haffajee

Former President Jacob Zuma dances and chants during the closing session of the ANC's National General Council (NGC) in Durban. (RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

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Former President Jacob Zuma’s testimony before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture offers many lessons for business. Here are the top 5.

Politically exposed person laws begin to bite

While it was previously fashionable for business to court political contacts by having connected people in senior positions or on boards, this does not always work.

Zuma told the Zondo commission of inquiry that two of his sons had been unable to find positions because of their surnames. Speaking of his son Mxolisi 'Saady' Zuma, the ex-president said the young man had been asked to leave a company he worked for when they found out who he was.

Zuma did not provide any evidence of this, but with the tightening of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) to regulate that companies must flag politically influential or politically exposed staff and clients, the system is changing.

Interference with DGs is common

Business people who have public sector-facing operations will often made directors-general - the equivalents of CEOs of private companies - their first port of call. 

In the course of responding to the testimony of former Cabinet spokesperson and Government Communication and Information System CEO Themba Maseko, Zuma said: "I normally call the DGs to discuss a number of issues."

In the era of state capture, this interference in the state led to policy confusion and to delays in the administration of justice, to the detriment of sectors like mining, agriculture and tourism.

Don’t fund presidential vanity projects

Zuma revealed that he had asked the Guptas to start a "progressive" newspaper called The New Age and later, that he was also instrumental in their television start-up ANN7.

Once they initiated the projects, the Guptas expected that government advertising would flow to their start-ups.When it didn’t, Maseko was eventually moved to another department because he would not divert the government advertising budget to them.

This is not to say that all presidents or all businesses are malign in their intentions and practice. But it is far better to fund through a corporate foundation or philanthropic foundation that knows how to do work the field for maximum impact.

Intelligence and the state

Zuma is being roundly criticised for starting his testimony with a wayward conspiracy theory outlining how he was the subject of 29-year-long destabilisation plot (or what he called "The Plan") which eventually led to his ouster.

But it is crucial to understand just how important intelligence networks are, and to what extent the fear of infiltration and suspicion related to who was a spy still runs through the governing party. It has long impacted the DNA of the ANC and understanding it can help understanding how to navigate government.

The system works

It is unprecedented in our continent, and in most parts of the world, for a former head of state to be called to account for his actions and for leading a country into an era of perfidy.

This week’s appearance by Zuma before a judicial commission of inquiry may catch the headlines for his naming of comrades as alleged spies, for his denial of the accounts of his former Cabinet ministers and for the frog in his throat, but the deeper significance is that the rule of law works.



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