Revelations about KPMG complicity in Gupta looting has brought out the best in South African social media


Last week a massive fight broke out on Twitter. To the (relatively) small portion of the internet that watched it, it was a thing of beauty.

During one of those odd “engagement” exercises people use to drum up Twitter traffic, someone tweeted during a #AskaCurator event to London’s The Natural History Museum: “Who would win in a staff battle between @sciencemuseum and @NHM_London, what exhibits/items would help you be victorious?”

Although the museum replied “We have dinosaurs. No contest.” The Science Museum, also in London, hit back with: “@NHM_London is full of old fossils, but we have robots, a Spitfire and ancient poisons. Boom!”

What followed was a mini education in history but also a delight of thoughtful and stirringly intelligent back-and-forth between two great scientific houses. As comedian Stephen Fry tweeted: “Glorious Twitter fight: 2 great institutions throw classy shade. This is how Twitter should be”.

Indeed, that is how it should be, but it hasn’t, especially not in the Bell Pottinger-poisoned online world. Twitter had been a divisive, bitter place for the last year or so for South Africans, who recently discovered the racial discord was started by Bell Pottinger. A fightback ensued that had seen the dastardly PR firm put into administration, after the DA’s complaint to the UK umbrella body saw them sanctioned and expelled.

Now, angry South Africans (on Twitter that is) have turned on the other enablers of the Gupta corruption regime. In the most stunning mea cupla since Arthur Andersen revealed its Enron collusion, KPMG finally told the truth about its complicity in covering up the Gupta’s money laundering. KPMG announced the resignation (read: firing) of its CEO and top executives, and about-face on the SARS “rogue unit” report that was used to denude the revenue service of its specialised tax-evasion unit and persecute former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

“KPMG risks becoming the Bell Pottinger of the auditing profession. Its fingerprints are all over the Gupta empire,” Save SA said, summing up South Africans attitudes to the auditing firm whose days must be numbered no matter KPMG International’s cauterising of SA’s top management. The rot was systematic and widespread.

How can a company ever trust this auditor – whose real clients are the shareholders of big business and not the wayward executives – who looked the other way? Or fabricated a false report into SARS that the international head office has had to withdraw, which as Gordhan says, “directly contributed to state capture”.

As seasoned business journalist Alec Hogg tweeted: “In effect, KPMG accepted [a]R23m bribe to produce [the]report used to knife Gordhan and corruption-fighting SARS executives”.

South African big business needs to put its money where its mouth is and drop KPMG to prove they’ll take a stand against corruption. You can’t complain about government graft and continue to use an audit firm who looked the other way for a few wedding invites.

If #BellPottinger thought they’d made South Africans angry, watch our fury over KPMG’s disgraceful cover for the Gupta’s looting. The same is true of McKinsey. What exactly did they do for those R1.6bn fees?

As Gordhan said last week, KPMG did “significant damage to our hard won democracy‚ to our state institutions and ultimately to the South African people for whom we seek a better life”.

We’ll see in the next election how the country has been effected by this. Right now, you can see the country’s outrage on social media. This is how Twitter should be.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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