South Africa: Ramaphosa hails Zondo report as ‘defining moment’ on ending state capture

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Thursday, 6 January 2022 21:44

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses media outside the parliament after a fire broke out, Cape Town, South Africa, January 2, 2022. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed the release of a report on large-scale corruption under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, as "a defining moment" for ending the "state capture" that took place during his watch.

Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chaired the presidential inquiry that former president Jacob Zuma was compelled to establish in 2018, handed the first of three parts of the report to Ramaphosa this week (4 January).

The release of the long-overdue report comes two months after a local government poll, in which the governing ANC saw its support continue to plummet, and at the start of a presidential-election year in the ANC, with Ramaphosa likely to run for a second term at the party’s elective conference in December.

He was elected ANC president in 2017 on the back of an anti-corruption pledge. This week, he said the publication of the report marked an opportunity “to restore the integrity, credibility and capability of our institutions [and] government”.

The full report is due to be released by the end of February, and Ramaphosa’s office is expected to respond to it in detail by the end of June, when the report is tabled in parliament.

What the report says

Zondo’s first batch of findings against Zuma and the ANC as well as its leadership, under whose watch this ‘state capture’ took place, are scathing. The report cites the large-scale corruption committed in Zuma’s name and by close associates.

Part one of the report, which comprises 874 pages and which was published on the presidency website on Tuesday night, contains Zondo’s findings on the malpractices in the troubled South African Airways (SAA) and its associated companies; on the now-defunct Gupta-owned media company The New Age; and on the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and public procurement practises.

Although Zondo makes no recommendation that Zuma should be charged, he says at least 1438 people or entities have been implicated in malpractice. Many of them are close to Zuma, and some, like Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, who is also ANC chairperson, are still in Ramaphosa’s government and in the ANC’s top leadership.

Findings on Zuma

“Mr Zuma fled the commission to avoid having to answer questions […],” Zondo says in the report about deals involving Zuma’s close associate and then SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni. “He did not want to account to the nation. He knew he was not going to have answers to many of the questions that were bound to be put to him.”

Myeni is also chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, which has in recent months been used to raise money for his numerous court challenges. Spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi has also been implicated in state capture in part one of Zondo’s report. Manyi is being accused of enabling state capture when he headed the government’s communication unit, but he has denied this, saying he had no power to decide about spending.

Zuma’s refusal to continue testifying before the commission after walking out in November 2020, and his defiance of a constitutional court order in this regard, ended with him going to prison in July. Two months later, however, a sympathetic prisons boss released him, un-procedurally, on medical parole.

The state capture report is out and you should […] familiarise yourself with its contents. Read it, and make sure that we never ever find ourselves – as a country – subjected to state capture.

There’s been pushback by Zuma’s supporters against his imprisonment. In July last year, they helped fan – and possibly also mastermind – widespread violent riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces. Many of those in Zuma’s faction, including his daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, ascribed the purported security breaches, which led to the fire that gutted Parliament’s National Assembly building this week, to weak leadership on Ramaphosa’s part.

Zuma-Sambudla has also tweeted her support for the man who was arrested in the parliamentary precinct, on suspicion of causing the fire.

Consequences

Ramaphosa said it wasn’t necessary to wait for Zondo’s report to be tabled in parliament before acting on it. There have already been consequences:

  • Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene resigned in 2018 when it emerged during one of the state capture inquiry hearings that he had lied about meeting members of the Gupta family, Zuma’s close business associates, while he was minister.
  • ANC secretary general Ace Magashule was suspended from the party a year ago after he was charged with corruption in relation to an asbestos audit tender awarded in 2014 in the Free State, where he used to be premier. Zondo mentions this contract as an example of how the ANC used the procurement process to receive millions of rands in kickbacks.
  • This week, British politician Lord Peter Hain called for the United Kingdom to freeze some of its state contracts with US-based consulting firm Bain & Company. Zondo recommends that all state contracts with Bain be re-examined for regulatory compliance as it was found to have played a central role in the decline of SARS, formerly a well-functioning institution.
  • South Africa’s accounting regulator has also announced, subsequent to the release of the report, that it will probe former SAA board member Yakhe Kwinana, whose testimony Zondo said showed that she either had ‘no clue’ what her responsibilities as chartered accountant entailed, or that she was dishonest.

Carrot and stick

Although the Zondo report isn’t a definitive report on corruption in South Africa, and although it didn’t focus on private sector corruption, many consider it to be ‘the alpha and omega of corruption’, or a comprehensive report, political analyst Oscar van Heerden says.

Van Heerden, deputy vice-chancellor at Fort Hare University, says Ramaphosa created high expectations by pegging his presidential campaign around the promise that he would combat corruption in the party and in government.

Van Heerden says while he reckons that the relevant institutions, like the National Prosecuting Authority, were up to the task, it wouldn’t be possible to prosecute everyone and to do so swiftly.

Yet the public now expects “to see ANC types in orange overalls [in prison] in the next six months”. Failure to do this could result in Ramaphosa’s popularity plunging ahead of the ANC’s elective conference, and ahead of the 2024 general elections, he says.

Van Heerden says those implicated in corruption could be planning ways to neutralise Ramaphosa’s power so that they can stay out of prison, such as loading the party’s national executive committee and parliament with his detractors following its elective conference in December. Ramaphosa could, however, retain some power by keeping his allies implicated in the report on-side, by making them understand that they could be safe from prosecution as long as they support his re-election bid.

“If Cyril Ramahosa is clever about it, he will use [the report] as a carrot and stick towards his re-election in December,” van Heerden says.

On the campaign trail

A day after the release of the report, Ramaphosa started a three-day public engagement campaign in his home province of Limpopo, ahead of the ANC’s 110th birthday rally on Saturday.

A leader from one of the regions says (the party’s) branches will support Ramaphosa’s re-election bid, although – technically – the endorsement process hasn’t started as yet. However, this may be more of a psychological bid (to convince voters), rather than an indication of the extent of Ramaphosa’s support, which is estimated to be a small majority in the party.

In a public address on Wednesday, Ramaphosa told ANC members: “The state capture report is out and you should […] familiarise yourself with its contents. Read it, and make sure that we never ever find ourselves as a country subjected to state capture.”

Not all leaders are equally enthusiastic about the report. In an interview with an SABC reporter on Wednesday, Deputy President David Mabuza was a bit more lukewarm about action that needs to be taken. He said he did not expect its publication to affect the ANC negatively, and that Ramaphosa should be allowed to “look at the report” and address parliament after.

Mabuza is said to harbour ambitions of being re-elected to the ANC’s top leadership with a group of allies that would exclude Ramaphosa. Thus far, however, no clear and credible challenger has emerged.

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