The notion of state capture is currently very topical in South Africa, in both popular and academic circles. According to the popular view, President Jacob Zuma, along with a number of senior civil servants, has been captured and is doing the bidding of a well-heeled expatriate Indian family, the Guptas. A more plausible explanation of the nature of this relationship is required.

During the past year, political debate in South Africa has been dominated by the notion of state capture. More specifically, debate has been dominated by speculation on the nature of the relationship between President Zuma, members of his extended family and influential Indian family, the Guptas. According to popular lore, not to mention several academic treatises, the Gupta family has somehow managed to capture President Zuma and other senior civil servants and been able to manipulate them into awarding them a number of lucrative public contracts. This has enabled the Gupta family to become fabulously wealthy.

For a number of reasons, the assertion that the most powerful person in the country has somehow been captured is unconvincing. Indeed, the very proposition that a democratically-elected president of a sovereign nation of 55 million citizens can somehow manage to get ensnared in the schemes of a single family, no matter how influential, simply beggars belief. Far more plausible in one’s view that President Zuma and his coterie of advisors and assorted hangers-on have captured the Guptas by deliberately seeking them out and cajoling them into becoming a convenient conduit for their ill-gotten gains whilst bearing public blame for corruption and all that is wrong in South Africa. ….more