Paul Hoffman: ‘Refreshing, inspiring’ afternoon with Three Musketeers, Rupert and friends

The BizNews webinar that unpacked the extraordinary story of the 43-year business partnership and friendship between Laurie Dippenaar, Paul Harris and GT Ferreira attracted close on 2,000 attendees – none of whom were disappointed. As expected, the webinar proved to be an hour of powerful sharing and business wisdom from three of the finest entrepreneurs SA has ever produced, with surprise input from billionaire Johann Rupert and other business leaders in a highly interactive session. Paul Hoffman, a regular contributor to BizNews, reflects on the session, with his usual writing flair. – Editor

The one innovation without which SA will not easily survive the pandemic.

By Paul Hoffman* 

On a cold and stormy Cape winter’s day, locked down with the ridgebacks who refused to take their walk in that weather, what a refreshing and inspiring experience to join Alec Hogg and his guests “The Three Musketeers” of Rand Merchant Bank, GT Ferreira, Laurie Dippenaar and Paul Harris. As surprise bonuses guest appearances by Johann Rupert, Adrian Gore, Michael Jordaan and Roger Jardine made the webinar memorable.

The “traditional values, innovative ideas” mantra applies to all of the participants, including the host.

GT Ferreira, Paul Harris and Laurie Dippenaar

It was accordingly not a surprise to hear Paul Harris suggest that the one thing SA needs most now is law and order. An end to the culture of corruption with impunity is the key to the survival and health of the country. Certainly there is a need to make it easier to create jobs (GT) and important that the population as a whole be upskilled and better educated. Dippenaar sees education as an essential element of getting the country out of the hole in which it finds itself in recessionary and pandemic circumstances.

Of the three ideas, the restoration of the rule of law is the one innovation without which SA cannot possibly prosper. This is because a climate of “theft from the poor” (which is how Harris described corruption, quite accurately) is not one that is conducive to business confidence and new investments that flow from business confidence. Why would any investor with alternatives available choose to take the risks attendant upon the investment being looted by those who participate in the culture of corruption with impunity?

Surviving the pandemic is straining the skills and capacity of governments all over the world. A reset button is going to have to be pressed in Rupert’s estimation. He has had time to think while locked down in the Karoo, bonding with his family. He claims to be 15 kgs lighter (no photographic evidence was presented) and more empathetic to people and planet. A reset button of sorts has already been pressed in his case.

The “how to” of the reset button for SA is the trickiest question; one that was not reached in the hour long discussion that canvassed the past, present and future of the three advertised guests who came across as principled businessmen who are prepared to work hard for want they want.

The hard work on achieving a restoration of the rule of law in the post-Zuma and post-pandemic SA was identified but was not explored.

We know we have a fabulous Constitution which clearly articulates the supremacy of the rule of law and a Constitutional Court, described as a centre of excellence by Dippenaar, to uphold it.

We also know that the National Prosecuting Authority has been “hollowed out” (as the new NDPP, Shamila Batohi puts it) during the Zuma years as a form of insurance for him and his merry band of looters and plunderers of the public coffers. The capacity of the NPA to deal decisively with the corrupt is questionable and is actually questioned by its own leadership on a continuous basis: lack of resources, shortage of skills, absence of ITC equipment and no Artificial Intelligence to sift evidence effortlessly.

Law and order begins with sound investigation of allegations of malfeasance. The SAPS is itself a highly corrupted body. Its Hawks unit, created to replace the Scorpions who were closed down for doing their job too well on Zuma and his associates, is dysfunctional to the extent that not one big fish swimming in the pool of corrupt activity in SA has ever been landed by it.

So disenchanted is the President with the Hawks that he proclaimed the establishment of the Investigative Directorate within the NPA to investigate state capture and grand corruption. While this move is of questionable constitutionality, it has not been effective because of the hollowing out of the NPA and the presence of “saboteurs” in the ranks who see to it that the Zuptoids remain protected. This is the constant refrain of the leader of the ID, Adv Hermione Cronje.

In these circumstances, for the wish of Paul Harris to come true, an innovation that is true to principles and precepts of the law is required.

The Constitutional Court has already put the medicine for success in the fight against corruption before government. This occurred in a series of cases in which Hugh Glenister, a Johannesburg businessman, challenged the dissolution of the Scorpions and sought to impugn the constitutionality of their replacement with the Hawks.

The court, deferential to the tasks set out for the executive and legislative branches of government, was not prescriptive: it required the reasonable decision of “a reasonable decision-maker in the circumstances”.

Now it is obvious to all that “the circumstances” have changed since this was laid down in 2011. The state capture project happened and so did the pandemic. Neither has ended yet. “The circumstances” must elicit a response from government that is appropriate.

In these circumstances, and given the instances of corruption manifesting themselves in the context of the pandemic, it is time for the President to consider taking the strong medicine needed to end the culture of corruption with impunity before it ends the future prospects of success of a non-racial country in which inequality is reduced, opportunities are abundant and safety is secured.

That medicine, in current circumstances, is the establishment of a Chapter Nine Integrity Commission to investigate and prosecute grand corruption of all kinds. It will be independent, specialised and have staff that is well-trained, properly resourced and which enjoys the type of security of tenure of office the Scorpions did not have.

The medicine has been mulled over by the President as was rejected “at this stage” in June last year. The full extent of the looting was then (and is still now) unknown and the pandemic possibilities for kleptocratic adventures had yet to dawn. In fairness to the President he did find the idea “refreshing” when it was first put to him at parliamentary question time in March last year.

The stage has surely been reached when the need for the establishment of anti-corruption machinery of state that can be used to clean up SAPS and grand corruption in all its various manifestations has come.

The power of the business community and the improvement of the relationship between it and government in these trying times could be used to encourage the reform needed.

Without it the chances of the materialisation of the dreams for the future of SA, so eloquently enunciated by the Three Musketeers – as Alec Hogg dubbed them, are slim indeed.

  • Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now; he was lead counsel for Glenister.