||The machinations of the late Brett Kebble remain of enduring interest, not least because he ripped off maybe a billion and a half rand in his decade of CEO chaos.
Last Friday, at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, Allan Horwitz’s parody play about Kebble, Comrade Babble, opened to a packed house. The same day, the African National Congress settled an out-of-court bill with the Kebble estate trustees, based on money dished out after he was technically bankrupt. Of more than R20 million in gifts to the ANC and its leading politicians, the trustees honed in on R250 000 donated in 2004.
ANC treasurer Matthews Phosa initially refused to give it back, arguing on behalf of bribery: “Kebble obtained the benefit of access to political decision makers and lawmakers that would be beneficial to him, both directly and indirectly, by virtue of its benefits to the companies in which he had an interest.”
With the Kebble bill behind them, ANC leaders can now turn to a related task at a funeral on Saturday: restoring the image of ‘Category 1’ state hero Sicelo Shiceka, a man responsible not only for a Kebble-caliber hedonistic lifestyle paid involuntarily by others, but also for so many service delivery protests through brutal tactics honed when he was Gauteng local government MEC fifteen years ago.
As Shiceko bragged when personally commandeering a Caterpillar to cut all the water and electricity mains into townships after a 1997 spate of non-payment, “We are now at the stage of coercion, and it’s paying dividends.”
Shiceka was promoted to local government minister, and you can joke all you want about his ‘turnaround’-and-around strategy – where we are left in precisely the same place in municipal service non-delivery as before – but you cannot question his commitment to class war against his constituents, dressed up as always in talk-left walk-right drag.
Indeed we should all learn from Kebble’s fate about three kinds of colour-coded Crony Capitalisms. Through the mid-1990s, you could call South Africa a case of Crony Capitalism 1.0 in which state and corporate corruption flourished and white-on-white accumulation was facilitated by white-against-black apartheid violence and exploitation.
From 1994 until recently, it was still largely white-against-black oppression at the workplace that allowed black-on-white accumulation (‘BEE’) in Crony Capitalism 2.0, whose depths were plumbed by Kebble’s largesse and the ethics of his trainee, Mzi Khumalo, from whom the SA Reserve Bank now seeks an illegally-expatriated R1 billion.
“The era of mega-BEE wealth transfers is gone for good,” Gordon Institute of Business Science researcher Andile Makhunga told City Press last week, because BEE “simply transferred wealth to a few individuals – while in the rest of the economy, black people’s incomes were declining significantly.”
Kebble got away with it for way too long thanks to the lack of regulator oversight, as well as the blindness of South Africa’s business journalists, with the exception of noseweek’s Martin Welz and The Citizen’s Paul Kirk, both of whom made it to Kebble’s ‘hit list’. Kebble’s financial supporters were creditor Investec and the R220 billion Allen Gray fund. State regulators were simply absent.
What of Crony Capitalism 3.0’s fate? With the demise of Julius Malema’s tenderpreneurship, and with the denouement of Aurora looting – featuring Zuma nephew Khulubuse, Zuma lawyer Michael Hulley and Mandela grandson Zondwa – we see the terminal logic of black-on-black accumulation. (Although to break the mould, the Solidarity trade union argues that there was also substantial unpaid black-on-white exploitation of its members at Pamodzi.)
In September 2005, Kebble suffered what the National Prosecuting Authority termed an ‘assisted suicide’, shocking South Africa. The man who hired the shooters, Clinton Nassif, “was looking for means of killing Kebble in a way that would not look like a suicide, so that the insurance could still pay out and look after his family,” Nassif’s main assistant testified in court.
To add to the confusion, even after Kebble’s financial fall and disreputable death, a horde of politicians and business elites proudly attended his Cape Town funeral: Essop Pahad, David Gleason, Brigitte Radebe, Saki Macozoma, Peter Gray, Mafika Mkwanazi, Tokyo Sexwale, Tony Yengeni, Ebrahim Rasool, Mo Shaik, Pam Golding, Nomaindia Mfeketo, Limpho Hani, Mbulelo Goniwe, Baleka Mbete and Dali Tambo.
The pallbearers were ANC youth leaders Lunga Ncwana, Songezo Mjongile, Andile Nkuhlu and Sharif Pandor. Sports minister Fikile Mbalula, the Malema ally anticipated to run against incumbent Gwede Mantashe for general secretary of the ANC at Mangaung in December, was a well-lubricated beneficiary with a taste for Johnnie Walker Blue.
May their names always be associated with Kebble, and may someone please provide an assisted suicide to the tendency in the ruling party seeking the next disastrous edition of Crony Capitalism.
Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society.