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A new Wits University Press publication, edited by Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Peter Vale, this book features authors: Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Peter Vale, Karl von Holdt, Robyn Foley, Ryan Brunette, Jonathan Klaaren, Cherese Thakur, Devi Pillay, Luke Spiropoulos, Reg Rumney, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, Michael Marchant, Hennie van Vuuren, Patrick Heller, Barney Pityana.

The contributors in this collection try to explain state capture from a variety of viewpoints and disciplines. All hold fast to the belief that the democracy that promised the country so much when apartheid ended has been significantly eroded, resulting in most citizens expressing a loss of hope for the future. Read together, the essays cumulatively show not only how state capture was enabled and who benefitted, but also how and by whom it was scrutinised and exposed in order to hold those in power accountable.

The following excerpts from the introduction set the scene for a scholarly and empirical understanding of how things went awry, even with various regulating bodies in place, and how to prevent state capture from happening again in the future.

Released on 1 June 2023, this book is available at leading bookstores or  from online retailers.

“With small adjustments from fiction to fact, the foregoing account might well be a description of South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994: the sense of things going wrong and being unable for a long time to understand with clarity; sums of money many thought did not exist being siphoned out of the state and its institutions; and leaders using liberation credentials to place themselves in positions of power, from which they claim to be acting in the interest of the formerly oppressed while looting public resources. This is indeed what has come to pass in South Africa in a reprise of what has taken place in earlier times in other postcolonial African countries, the most glaring example being South Africa’s neighbour, Zimbabwe. That this should have come to pass in post-apartheid South Africa is especially irksome, given the towering figure cut by the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, and the accompanying boast that citizens of the ‘new South Africa’ lived under ‘the best Constitution in the world’. Put in Tocquevillian terms, South Africa was – or would be – an exception to the postcolonial experience in Africa. The focus of this book is the saga of why this has not been the case. Because the state itself was captured for the gain of a few at the expense of the many, this book, in part, is the story of the undoing of the country’s sense of exceptionalism.”


“State capture is the seizure – or attempted seizure – of key institutions of the state by a criminal network associated with Zuma’s presidency. This is the sense in which the term is used in this book. This position directly links state capture to the Zumas – specifically former president Jacob and his son Duduzane – and the three Gupta brothers, Atul, Ajay and Rajesh. It also describes the myriad networks – primary, secondary and tertiary – that have extracted rents from the country’s public purse.”


“The incoming president Zuma came to the position with two contrasting public images. On the one hand, he was seen as a unifying figure who promised to smooth the relations between the ruling party and its Alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. It was hoped, too, that he would change the tone of the relationship between the government and the populace by listening to what people wanted, unlike his remote predecessor. He was helped in these endeavours by his mastery of cultural repertoires, including a willingness to engage the public through the use of indigenous languages. He was patently deeply flawed: Zuma faced allegations of corruption stemming from the infamous post-apartheid Arms Deal; he had been charged, but acquitted, on charges of rape; and he was prone to making patriarchal, sexist and homophobic statements.”


“Indeed, the relationship between sections of business, state officials and hangers-on of Zuma and his family helped to create a soap opera-like atmosphere around his succession to the presidency of both the ruling party and the country. Initially, the resulting spectacle seemed as important as the politics around the new president. This has left a long trail of popular interest – ongoing theatrics, perhaps – associated with the notion of state capture.”


“The ANC and the state are riddled with contradictions: these have been drawn to the surface over time and have broken out into obvious factional warfare since Cyril Ramaphosa became its leader. On the face of this, party discipline has frayed: so much so that branches, regions and entire provinces have become the fiefdoms for competing factions, many of which use both corruption and violence to sustain their respective holds on power. In this way, the modus operandi of the Zuma-Gupta strain of political behaviour is replicated at all tiers of state administration.”


“The ending of apartheid and subsequent policy choices have ensured that race-based inequality has remained (and is likely to remain) intact. Black people – even those who slowly were ascending to the middle class – felt that their lives were not changing fast enough. The social ordering around the category of ‘race’, which was the essence of colonialism, and which was supercharged under apartheid, was not dismantled fast enough.”

Buthelezi and Vale have curated an important academic and theoretical context to understand how this phenomenon manifested in South Africa. It unravels the disparate elements of state capture and unpacks its political economy dimensions. The various actors and elite networks that enabled the capture of the South African state are identified and their roles in undermining our constitutional democracy clearly expounded. It adds significantly to the discourse on re-establishing the democratic state.

— Lawson Naidoo, Executive Secretary, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC)



Mbongiseni Buthelezi is the director of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) and an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Peter Vale is senior research fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria and senior fellow at the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI). He is visiting professor in international relations at the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Brazil, and an honorary professor in the Africa Earth Observatory Network, of which he is a founding member.

Karl von Holdt is a professor at, and former director of, the Society Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Robyn Foley is a researcher at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University.

Ryan Brunette is a research associate at the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Jonathan Klaaren is Professor and former Dean of the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Cherese Thakur is an attorney and associated with the German development agency, GIZ.

Devi Pillay is a researcher for the State Reform Programme at the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) in Johannesburg.

Luke Spiropoulos is an historian affiliated with the Wits History Workshop.

Reg Rumney is a journalist, editor and a research associate at the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University.

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh is currently pursuing a DPhil in international relations at the University of Oxford, and writing a book of essays on South African politics.

Michael Marchant is the head of Investigations at Open Secrets.

Hennie van Vuuren is the founding director of Open Secrets.

Patrick Heller is the Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences at Brown University.

Barney Pityana is a human rights activist. He was the chair of the South African Human Rights Commission and Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa.

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