At the beginning of the “Tender Revolution” when BEE became fashionable, many previously disadvantaged black folks scrambled to set up companies in their quest to emancipate themselves from economic subjugation. The promise of prosperity offered through preferential procurement opportunities inspired many to abandon formal employment in preference of exploring the unfamiliar business terrain. BEE is a noble attempt to bring previously disadvantaged individuals into the mainstream economy; that they become active participants at the forefront of generating wealth and economic growth at a sustainable pace. Like all good ideas, trouble begins with implementation.
BEE, instead of serving the purpose it was intended to, serves as patronage to the politically connected and high-ranking officials within the ruling party. Ordinary people meant to directly benefit from the abundance of opportunities are being frustrated by corrupt officials who believe that “one hand washes the other”. In the private sector, major BEE transactions also generally favour those with access to political power. Social and political minions are left out in the cold searching for crumbs.
A friend of mine, who had unsuccessfully attempted to chase his fortunes as a “tenderpreneur” since the beginning of the “Tender Revolution”, relayed a story of how he attended, at some point, a briefing of bidders for a particular project. At that briefing, temperatures were rising, hungry bidders frustrated by the lack of transparency and corruption in the tendering processes demanded clarity on what precisely was required of them to be successful bidders. They had observed that tenders were being snatched up before their eyes by persons they suspected were politically connected and relatives of those in government. These desperate bidders correctly suspected that something more sinister may have been occurring; that someone maybe greasing somebody’s hands in order to secure contracts. It was something none of them had explored and one of them rose and pleaded: “Can someone please tell us what the minimum bribery amount is?” There was no response to this important remark.
However, on close observation of the political scandals within the ANC, especially those arising out of alleged incidents of corruption, it would be easy to arrive at a definite conclusion on what the “minimum bribery amount” may be. It has become apparent that R500 000 is the magic number in the ANC, be it for empty promises of jobs to pre-paid bribes in the form of securing a seat next to President Jacob Zuma at a gala dinner or political donations in plastic bags and alleged arms deal bribes.
At the height of a global recession, Zuma stood before Parliament and made startling promises, among them was the creation of 500 000 jobs in eight months. There was a collective gasp from South Africans and the rolling of eyes. That this revealed the president’s disturbing lack of grasp of basic economics and exposed him as clueless is inconsequential. The issue at hand is the magic number concerned. To date, the science behind the number still eludes reason. He then tried to save face and told Parliament that government had reached its target and created these 500 000 jobs when in fact he was referring to casual jobs where desperate individuals would be hired to hold a red flag at a construction site. What happened to “decent jobs”? He went further to promise four million jobs by 2014. That would be a remarkable feat if indeed decent jobs are created during the period when the economy is faltering and growing at a snail’s pace.
In order for one to have secured a seat next to Zuma at the so-called “fundraising banquet” on the eve of the ANC’s national general council, you would have been required to part with the magical R500 000 “bribe” disguised as a “donation”. Since when has the ANC needed to fundraise? Perhaps the multimillion-rand proceeds from the building of Eskom power stations by Hitachi have not started trickling in.
If media reports are anything to go by, tenderpreneurs who were prepared to part with such large amounts of cash were not in short supply. The fundraising banquet we are told was “sold out”. Perhaps the expectation of future contracts that could flow as a result of “networking” with the president justified the obscene cost of the dinner.
Back to the R500 000! This magical number has been a common feature in bribery scandals that engulfed our political landscape since the dawn of freedom. It was alleged a few years ago that the ANC, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and some Mozambican charity, founded by Graca Machel, had each received R500 000 from Thyssen Rheinstahl Technik, the company that was a bidder in the controversial arms deal. This information was discovered in documents found during a raid carried out by German authorities at the home of Christoph Hoenings, a top Thyssen executive who was directly involved in the arms deal bid. These revelations have since been swept under the carpet. Had the Protection of Information Bill been promulgated at the time, we would not have known about these scandalous affairs. The ANC is expected to protect itself from embarrassing revelations. It was not going to investigate this. Why would they do so and embarrass its political icon and his wife?
In 2003 the Sunday Times also published a story that Mac Maharaj had allegedly received about R500 000 and free nights accommodation in Disneyland from convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik while doing business with an affiliate of Halliburton (a Dick Cheney company that profits in post-war Iraq). It was alleged that the R500 000 payment was made in relation to the awarding of tenders for the new format driver’s licence and the N3 toll road between Johannesburg and Durban. The toll-road deal was financed in part via FirstRand, which Maharaj was a director of. Maharaj has since been rescued from political oblivion and appointed as “special envoy” in the Presidency. No one knows exactly what we are paying him to do.
Shaik, who once moonlighted as Zuma’s financial adviser, was convicted among other things of attempting to solicit a bribe of R500 000 a year from French arms company Thomson CSF (now Thint). Shaik and his Nkobi group of companies and Thomson CSF had secured the naval corvette contract through African Defence Systems. Shaik was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 15 years but was released on medical parole. He has since made a remarkable recovery and now enjoys playing golf in KwaZulu-Natal. Miracles do happen. There must be a God out there.
Even communists and trade unionists have developed an affinity to the amount of R500 000. This is an amount that haunted the secretary-general of the SACP, Blade Nzimande, in 2007, and threatened to compromise his pseudo-communist standing within the tripartite alliance. Former Cosatu president Willie Madisha had claimed that a businessman had made a cash donation of R500 000 to the SACP. Madisha claimed that he handed over the cash to Nzimande in a black rubbish bag. Nzimande vehemently denied these allegations. The squabble over the missing donation ended up costing Madisha his position as president of Cosatu but he later went on to join Congress of the People. Nzimande went on to become the minister of higher education and drives a R1 million Bling-MW, living up to his title as the “Gucci Communist”.
It is rather apparent that R500 000 opens doors, if you have that kind of money that is.