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A troubling intersection of politics and business

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Graphic: Supplied – Sekunjalo and Sagarmatha’s lawsuits against the government go far beyond mere monetary compensation. They are a bid for an economic-sabotage-free future for all.

By Sizwe Dlamini

The lawsuits by Sekunjalo Investment Holdings (Sekunjalo) and Sagarmatha Technologies (Sagarmatha) against certain organs of state, including the Presidency, highlight the often-murky boundary between politics and business.

These lawsuits not only spotlight the need for transparency but also underscore the potential implications for the democratic principles that underpin the SA government.

South Africa’s Political Party Funding Act (Act 6 of 2018) has strict rules governing the disclosure of donations to political parties. These include the rule that all donations of R100,000 (cumulative) and above must be disclosed. Further, that no political party may accept a donation above R15 million and so on.

Politicians also have their own disclosure act and should declare their various business and financial interests – the Members Act of October 28, 1998.

But, despite the numerous incidents that have been reported on in the local media (480 public servants were found guilty of misconduct in the first quarter of 2023 alone), there seems to be a general lack of accountability in this realm.

And this raises valid questions about the extent of influence wielded by political masters and the potential for conflicts of interest, as noted in Sekunjalo and Sagarmatha’s recent claims.

Giving credence to these companies’ claims of political interference is the glaring and troubling omission in the Members Act, which is that the scheme does not reveal to whom the public protector must submit their report if the president was the subject of an investigation and whether such a report is to be placed before Parliament.

This was brought to light and noted in the judgment in Public Protector and Others v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others (CCT 62/20) [2021] ZACC 19; 2021 (9) BCLR 929 (CC); 2021 (6) SA 37 (CC) (1 July 2021).

It was never conceived that a president could ever put him or herself in a position that would warrant being investigated, such as happened in this case.

Has this oversight in the act opened the door to abuse?

Without accusing anyone of anything, the mere fact that Sekunjalo and Sagarmatha, AYO and other companies related to Sekunjalo and its founder Dr Iqbal Survé claim to have been targeted by the Presidency and other organs of state, suggests that there could be reasonable suspicion that Sekunjalo’s lawsuits do indeed carry weight.

Economic sabotage is a real threat to democracy

In a democracy, the fundamental principle is that the government works for the people, not the other way around. However, the lawsuits initiated by Sekunjalo and Sagarmatha suggest a different narrative, one where the lines between political power and corporate interests become increasingly blurred.

This prompts an examination of the structures in place to safeguard the democratic values that South Africa holds dear.

Sekunjalo, especially, brings to light the potential for economic sabotage that can occur when politics and business intersect without proper oversight or political accountability. The group, led by Survé, has faced challenges that some argue are politically motivated, leading to economic ramifications for the company.

The legal battles and alleged interference have not only impacted the company’s financial stability but have broader implications for the economy.

The question then arises: Could the actions against Sekunjalo be a form of economic sabotage, a strategy to cripple a business, and one that owns a media group that is vocal in questioning government and holding it to account?

If so, this raises serious concerns about the abuse of power and the potential repercussions for the broader South African economy. Such interference not only undermines the principles of a free-market economy but also jeopardises the livelihoods of countless individuals employed by these companies.

The lawsuits against the government should serve as a wake-up call for the entire nation. Beyond the substantial monetary claims that the companies are seeking (Sekunjalo at R75 billion and Sagarmatha at R50bn), the lawsuits focus attention on the pressing issue of South Africa’s financial instability.

With the country facing economic challenges and a strained fiscus, the question of how it can afford to settle these claims becomes paramount.

In a nation grappling with financial constraints, the potential payout to these companies could further strain the already burdened national budget. This prompts reflection on the opportunity cost of these legal battles – funds that could have been allocated to critical public services or used to bolster the economy.

The lawsuits, in essence, become a microcosm of the larger economic challenges facing South Africa.

The fact that these lawsuits could have been avoided and the revenue they would have generated stay in the economy should also not be overlooked.

Moreover, the lack of transparency in political-business dealings raises concerns about the allocation of resources and the impact on the nation’s solvency. If political interference in businesses remains undisclosed, there is a risk that crucial financial resources meant for public welfare are diverted towards private interests.

This not only undermines the democratic ideals but should also erode the trust that citizens place in their government to prioritise their well-being. Has the government prioritised your well-being?

The discomfort for the government extends beyond the financial implications. The lawsuits illuminate the need for a comprehensive review of the checks and balances in place to prevent undue influence from political figures on businesses.

Strengthening these safeguards is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the democratic system and ensuring that the government serves the interests of the people rather than a select few. For the citizens of the country, it is a reminder to elect those who have integrity, have demonstrated it and who genuinely will serve the people before themselves.

Sekunjalo and Sagarmatha’s lawsuits against the government go far beyond mere monetary compensation. They are a bid for an economic-sabotage-free future for all.

Sizwe Dlamini is Investigations Editor and head of the Falcons Special Investigations unit based in Cape Town, Western Cape