How To Steal A Country is a documentary on the Gupta state capture scandal that ended Jacob Zuma’s presidency. I remember hearing about the state corruption reports at the time, but watching this, it was so much worse than I remember. Apparently almost 1 trillion rand was funnelled out of public coffers under Zuma’s tenure.
The Guptas were Indian-South African businessmen, who inserted themselves into Jacob Zuma’s inner circle, and used their power and money to manipulate contracts and procurements for nearly every public works. This film does a good job of explaining what can at times feel like overwhelming and confusing machinations, just for the sheer number of complex scandals. They effectively hollowed out government over the course of a decade, where the running of all public services, from transport to security to energy, were within their control, and being run for their profit.
The real heroes here are the journalists and activists who fought tirelessly to expose these crimes. The uncovering of this corruption could not have been done without activists willing to fight for their democracy, voting to replace Zuma’s crony as president of the ANC, and protesting and taking to the streets to keep pressure on for action. What Zuma and the Guptas underestimated was the vigilance the South African people have over their democracy. It’s creation happened within their lifetime, and many remember what it was like before its inception. There is less complacency and more political engagement than you see in some countries where corruption has already destroyed people’s faith in their system.
Also, in a world where we are increasingly seeing journalists being branded enemies of the people for questioning the narrative of those in power, it was really refreshing to see a film with journalists braving abuse and attacks to get the truth out – that the people were being robbed, and their democracy sold out from under them. It shows how integral their role can be in mobilising against the erosion of democracy.