11/06/2018 10:30 BST | Updated 11/06/2018 12:04 BST

Ashwin Willemse, Gayton McKenzie, And The BEE Deal

'Willemse’s case illustrates the perniciousness of quota systems. Talent is glossed over, and skin colour rewarded unjustifiably.'

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Ashwin Willemse celebrates after scoring his try during the round-two Super 14 match between the Sharks and the Lions at ABSA Stadium on February 21 2009, in Durban.

Wikipedia describes Gayton McKenzie as "a South African businessman, motivational speaker, author, convicted criminal and president of the Patriotic Alliance political party". His is a certain type of South African story.

McKenzie grew up in the gang-ridden suburb of Heidedal in Bloemfontein. At the age of 16, he was convicted for attempted bank robbery and jailed for 15 years in the notorious Grootvlei Prison. It was here that McKenzie became known for his shocking exposé of corruption at Grootvlei. This exposé eventually led to his early release amid an investigation into prison corruption by the Jali Commission.

McKenzie has worked as a consultant in the mining industry and has diversified business interests in restaurants, logistics and transport, imports, mining, energy, virtual reality, entertainment and events, publishing and farming.

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Controversial South African businessman, Gayton Mckenzie poses with his birthday cakes held by prison inmates at Johannesburg Central Prison on March 10 2011 in Johannesburg.

Presumably, it is in his role in mining that he came to head up the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) consortium Invictus. In 2010, Gold Fields Limited, one of the largest gold mining companies in the world, needed to obtain the rights necessary to work its flagship mine South Deep from the then department of mineral resources (DMR), headed by minister Susan Shabangu.

The deal with Invictus was deemed necessary for the company to secure the rights it needed from the DMR. Gold Fields described it as "ground-breaking". It was "broad-based in all aspects", "met the spirit and intent of black economic empowerment" and "set a benchmark for the nature and structuring of an empowerment transactions" company.

Gold Fields chief executive Nick Holland and former chairperson Mamphela Ramphele have also suggested, however, that the company believed the DMR was holding a BBBEE gun to its head. So the company brought in McKenzie and Invictus.

The list of 72 was intended to 'empower' some people because they were personally connected to McKenzie or because they had political status, but all because they were black.

The result suggests that McKenzie had carte blanche to include whomever he pleased. McKenzie and his friend, Quentin Eister, one of the recipients, were unapologetic. "You call it cronyism, but I say it's precedented — it's been done. There are no clear-cut rules about how BEE gets done," Eister said.

"You can't blame me for all of this. I didn't write the Mining Charter and it's not my fault that it is so vague." McKenzie's associates were given benefits worth more than R330-million, a substantial part of the R2.1-billion deal. Sam Sole and Craig McKune of AmaBhungane unpacked the deal in Gold Fields: Ex-con McKenzie's cronies given R330m (Mail & Guardian, January 17 2014).

The 72 Invictus shareholders included an extraordinary combination of beneficiaries: the mother of the woman who had his children; the best man at his wedding; the marketing director of the Dudu Zuma Foundation and head of events at the nightclub ZAR in Bloemfontein; a senior traffic manager; a "manager" to McKenzie and Kenneth Kunene whose website was at ZAR; McKenzie's wife's aunt; four doctors; a field technician for a technical company; an office manager for National Intelligence; a KwaZulu-Natal mayor; an elderly childhood friend from Heidedal; and the general manager of ZAR.

The ANC worthies include parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe; ex-SAA chair Dudu Myeni; Chris Hani's widow Limpho; deputy minister of defence Kebby Maphatsoe; James Motlatsi, the non-executive chair of Shanduka; and Glen Mandla Msimang (son of Menzi and Manto, the Treasurer of the ANC and the late Minister of Health respectively).

To round off this extraordinary list is Sebastian Xhosana Ximba, a colonel in the South African Police and a co-accused of Richard Mdluli.

Four people received the largest amount, an eye-watering R61.4-million each.

The fourth person in this elite group was Ashwin Willemse. Willemse was a business partner of McKenzie, and helped McKenzie to structure the deal.

The first three were Paul Helepi, a Public Service Commissioner in Bloemfontein and friend of McKenzie and Kunene; Jerome Brauns SC, who was a friend of McKenzie and previously a lawyer for Jacob Zuma, and Floyd Danny Duke Smith, who had been a career criminal and has been charged with committing two violent cash-in-transit robberies, murder, being in possession of a cache of weapons, and investigated for selling illegal liquor. Smith has faced extradition to Lesotho for his role in an armed robbery in Maseru, and other serious brushes with the law. He was the had of operations of the ZAR nightclub owned by McKenzie and Kunene.

AmaBhungane met convicted criminals who grew up in Heidedal, one of whom claimed: "Danny was our mentor when it comes to doing crime. He was an icon and an elder brother to us." But Smith disputes this: "I was a responsible and locally engaged businessman. I was never a gangster nor involved in gangster activities. I have never been found guilty of any violent crimes or robbery." He claims: "I have contributed both morally and materially to the attainment of our democracy, and believe I bring value as any other shareholder to the [Gold Fields] deal."

The fourth person in this elite group was Ashwin Willemse. Willemse was a business partner of McKenzie, and helped McKenzie to structure the deal. McKenzie stayed at Willemse's home while putting the deal together.

The list of 72 was intended to "empower" some people because they were personally connected to McKenzie or because they had political status, but all because they were black. By virtue of a controversial relationship, Willemse was given an obscenely large amount of money because of the colour of his skin. Whichever way one looks at it, this deal was the worst type of deal that could possibly reflect on the empowerment of previously disadvantaged people with the overriding criterion being skin colour.

After winning an IRB Under-21 World Cup gold medal for South Africa in 2002, Willemse played Super 12 Rugby for the Cats (now the Lions). Willemse's debut was against Scotland and he was included in the South Africa 2003 Rugby World Cup squad.

In 2003, Willemse gained three top awards — Player of the Year, Most Promising Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year. Willemse was badly injured for most of the 2004-2006 seasons. However, he was selected for the Springbok's 2007 international season and the Tri-nations and was selected for the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad.

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Ashwin Willemse in action.

He signed a two-year contract with Biarritz Olympique in France, and thereafter Willemse retired from international rugby. Willemse earned well deserved respect for his rugby career. He came from a hard background in tough, poor, gang-ridden Caledon.

Willemse's benefiting from the Gold Field's BEE deal, however, was his good fortune, not the result of his talent and hard work, and he cannot expect respect for becoming hugely rich on account of being the good friend of the architect of a dodgy deal and for having a black skin.

As regards the SuperSport controversy, Willemse claims he was patronised. Many commentators immediately assumed that this was true and that the reasons were racist. Facts may yet prove that Willemse was patronised.

And facts may yet prove that the basis was racism. If so, he will deserve sympathy and support. But we don't yet know whether these claims and assumptions are true. We know neither the facts nor the circumstances, and making assumptions feeds into a divisive and accusatory narrative. We can respond appropriately once we are apprised of the facts.

Willemse's case illustrates the perniciousness of quota systems. Talent is glossed over, and skin colour rewarded unjustifiably.

Sara Gon is a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.