At the top levels of government, state capture is bad enough.
But when it penetrates right down to the state institutions that ordinary citizens have to deal with on an everyday basis, then it gets really pathetic.
We may read about high officials in the executive branch of government getting away with murder (well, OK, rape, kickbacks and wasting public funds); chief executives of state enterprises who get exorbitant retirement packages; government ministers who go on spending sprees in foreign cities while away on state visits and even that whole institutions like the NPA that have been captured (it’s not a case of centre-rot with them, but that the whole tree has fallen over because of the rot).
But these are far-away vignettes of the rich and famous.
What about when you go into the police station to lay a charge for malicious damage to your own property?
Someone poured acid into your car’s radiator, and it plugged the radiator and also penetrated into the combustion chambers, destroying hoses and gaskets on the way in?
You find that the police refuse to even open a case. Then you find out later that one of your tenants, facing eviction, is a relative of someone you are in dispute litigation with. You connect the dots.
There is a “protection racket” that reaches right into the local SAPS precinct.
Or what about when you do succeed in opening a case, and you receive a text message the next day with a case number and the following day with the name of an investigating officer.
He never phones you and you politely wait to let him investigate.
Then after a week, you call him and make an appointment to meet in his office.
There he closes his eyes and basically sleeps through the interview.
Two months later, you haven’t heard anything, so you meet the station commander to complain.
She gets back to you, saying that the case was never investigated, because the investigating officer discussed it with the prosecutors at the magistrate’s court and they “withdrew” the case.
No one told you. No one told your attorney.
But there was no investigation of the crime at all.
This is what the SACC’s Unburdening Panel meant when it said that we were only inches from becoming a “mafia state”.
Mafias are composed of criminals, but don’t be so naïve as to think that “criminals” are the opposite of “law enforcement”. Plenty of policemen and women are enlisted by these crime syndicates. They pay well.
What about when you get stopped for speeding? The officer hints broadly that you could be facing a huge fine, but then adds that he is hungry.
So you give him a R100 note and he lets you proceed. It happens all the time. This is state capture. The fiscus is losing revenue because the SAPS has been captured by criminal elements – wearing police uniforms.
What about the teacher who gives a detention to some pretty pupil once a week or so?
In exchange for a sexual “favour” he then relents.
Unless he plays it the other way and warns her that she won’t pass that subject unless she gives him more “honey” before the exams.
Pastors who demand sexual favours are not part of state capture, it’s even worse.
For heaven is being captured, not just the state. Their white collars will not keep them out of hell. What about the way that tenders are run? What about the way the pharmacist in a state hospital suddenly finds that there is stock to fill your prescription after all – when a few notes of paper money are laid down on the counter?
What about the postal workers who will hand you that registered letter for a R20 note, when you forgot to bring along your ID book?
All these vignettes are examples of “state capture”. Undue influence. Abuse of power.
It doesn’t have to reach the proportions of treason to drain the fiscus and weaken the confidence that citizens have in government.
One reason that there is a “fraud epidemic” all around us is that we are afraid to confront it as it happens.
The hotlines and the complaints desks are just pressure release valves, to let off some steam when the system overheats.
Those complaints that you lodge take forever to be processed.
Just like so many rape victims never report it, because of the demeaning way in which they will be treated. As a result many of us just carry on and sweep it under the carpet.
The Guptas are a problem, but when we point one finger at them, three fingers are pointed back at ourselves.
The “accountability deficit” in South Africa is as bad as it is because citizens are afraid. They are afraid because they are intimidated. They are intimidated because the crime bosses run our communities, not the police and certainly not the indunas.
The crime bosses are in charge because the police and the prosecutors have been captured.
Not by the Guptas, but by a local web of relationships that creeps out of the private sector and into the state. At ground level.
This kind of state capture is the hardest to root out.
The media prefers to print stories about the rich and famous – when they get caught it’s news.
But when ordinary people are trampled on by crime syndicates colluding with public servants, that’s not news. That’s life.
-Chuck Stephens is the executive director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership, a non-profit organisation based in White River, Mpumalanga. He writes in his personal capacity.