When I read that President Jacob Zuma had become embroiled in the negotiation of the Sassa grant payment contract either personally or via his lawyer Michael Hulley, I wondered: how much is enough?
The president has also taken over the drive for nuclear power and has, by the accounts of many reports, been central to the negotiations thereof. The mothballed "State of Capture" report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela detailed how wealthy Duduzane Zuma (the president's son) has become because of his lengthy business links with the wealthy Gupta family. What is the son's is the father's.
We know what happened during the arms deal because it is captured in the judgment finding Durban businessperson Schabir Shaik guilty of corruption. His client, the president, was writ large through that document and efforts to bring him to trial have pockmarked his presidency.
By all this, I guess it's fair to deduce that the president's assembled a fairly decent-sized nest egg for his retirement. And so "what is enough" is a relevant question. Leo Tolstoy's essay "How much land does a man need?" is a parable on greed. The finding is that in the end most people get buried in a small grave -- it's all the land we need.
So much of the fury about the extension (or not) of the Sassa contract lies in what is not known: the president called in Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and her Treasury counterpart Pravin Gordhan at the weekend to get them to sort it out. Has money passed hands? Why is the state sticking, leech-like, to a less than salubrious company? Why would parts of the executive run hard against a Constitutional Court judgment and the advice of its own independent bureaucrats? Why is the minister going against the advice of her department? In the past few days, her respected director-general Zane Dangor has resigned and the Treasury put out an unprecedented statement distancing itself from the negotiations to extend the contract.
The minister has asked to renew the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract although the Constitutional Court has found it to be illegal. CPS makes a small fortune from paying grants and it is the company's biggest profit line –- it is a local subsidiary of Net1, a global corporation listed in the U.S. Last year, Bloomberg revealed how the company foisted unnecessary insurance products on our country's poorest citizens.
The 16.9 million grant payments to South Africans who depend completely on them were never not going to be paid, but at what price? The rule of law has been harmed because the Constitutional Court appears to have been left out of the contract's extension.
And at the other end of the spectrum, the SA Revenue Service (Sars) is imperilled too by the president's changes to a system that worked.
The supply side (revenue collection) and the demand side (grant payments) of the state are both being corroded by cronyism revealing how the effectiveness of the state is being impacted.
Who will stop this? How much is enough?