FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Attempts to extradite the Guptas is good news for us all
News that Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and National Prosecuting Authority head Shamila Batohi will lead a delegation travelling to Abu Dhabi to persuade the United Arab Emirates to extradite the controversial Gupta brothers is long overdue.
To be clear, the Guptas – if indeed guilty of all the many crimes that the public has found them guilty of – would not be the first or the only ones to have looted the state. The political elites who were close to state power during the apartheid era, stole from the state purse. It happened under presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
It is probably happening under President Cyril Ramaphosa's leadership and will continue with whoever will follow him. Of course, I wish my pessimism in this regard is proven wrong.
That said, the Guptas’ reputation added their own repugnancy to an already pungent practice of making the public purse a personal ATM. The allegations as we have heard at the Zondo Commission, from commanding the head of state on what to do; to choosing Cabinet ministers, instructing technocrats and having banks summoned for closing their accounts; the Guptas were, in the language of the young, “extra”.
To argue, as some have, that the Guptas should be left alone because others have looted before them is childish. It is hardly a defence and hopefully the Guptas’ lawyers will imagine a more plausible story – like that they have been framed or all this has been a big misunderstanding.
The Guptas are the face and the smell of the kleptocracy that became the motif of the Zuma presidency. Bringing them in and charging them would go a long way towards healing the trauma of the period we today called the “nine wasted years”.
Optics matter in politics. It is trite that in statecraft, perception is as good as reality.
South Africans are crying out for a sense that the government is serious about rooting out corruption. Two of the most recurrent criticisms of Ramaphosa is his indecisiveness and lack of action against those accused of corruption.
While the governing party, the government and the law enforcement agencies might argue that they have been busy with work away from the glare of the public, this is unhelpful for a nation desperate to see action.
We have heard enough words. As some have pointed out, Thuma Mina (send me) was not Hugh Masekela’s only hit song. The other one is Khawuleza (hurry up) and the president would do well to add some urgency to his repertoire.
Which is why seeing the Guptas sitting in the dock will be a powerful image. It will send a strong statement that nobody is above the law and that the days of acting with impunity just because you have friends in high places are over.
But the Guptas back in the country to face charges will also bring an end to trials by media. Everyone deserves due process – even the Guptas.
Getting the Guptas back to answer the case against them will therefore not just be about healing a political and social wound but also to remind those who might have forgotten that ours is a country founded on the rule of law and justice for all.
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.