South Africa: Doubts over effective clean-up as Zondo report implicates Ramaphosa’s allies

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Thursday, 3 February 2022 18:36

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa testifies before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa testifies before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 12, 2021. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Part two of acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo's report into large-scale corruption under former President Jacob Zuma contains incriminating details of how the latter forced appointments to a state-owned entity, which awarded irregular contracts worth R41.2bn ($2.7bn).

The report, which was released by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday afternoon, recommends “further investigations as may be necessary” against Zuma and two others – his former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba and a former chairperson of the entity, Mafika Mkwanasi – “with the view to the possible prosecution on a charge of corruption … and/or a racketeering charge”.

Politicians and businessmen incriminated

Almost three-quarters of all contracts linked to the large-scale corruption that happened under Zuma’s watch (‘state capture’) were awarded by Transnet, the entity responsible for rails, roads and pipelines.

Siyabonga Gama, the man who Zuma insisted should be appointed group CEO despite the board deeming him unfit, signed off on a number of these contracts, which siphoned off money to the Gupta brothers (three businessmen Zuma termed as his friends) and their business associate Salim Essa.

A number of consulting and advisory service companies, such as Trillian, Regiments, McKinsey; telecoms and technology companies, such as Neotel and T-systems; and the Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), are mentioned in the report.

Zondo’s report, which emanates from a three-year-long commission of inquiry into state capture, names several individuals as enablers of state capture. Some are no longer in government or stopped doing business in South Africa, but are yet to be prosecuted. Others include former ministers and politicians who are either still in power or are influential in the ruling party.

When I ordered a state capture commission, I ordered it to investigate and therefore I didn’t expect it to recommend further investigations…

They include minerals and energy minister Gwede Mantashe, who is also the ANC chairperson; former minister Jeff Radebe, who is part of the ANC’s team tasked with implementing Zondo’s commission; and minister of communications and digital technology, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, who sat on the board of arms deal manufacturer Denel, which is also cited in the report.

Radebe served as cabinet minister for 25 years and has served on the ANC’s national executive committee since 1991. He is close to Ramaphosa and was married to the president’s sister in law, Bridgette Motsepe.

Mantashe and Ntshavheni are considered to have been important allies who got Ramaphosa elected as ANC president in 2017, while Zuma is still part of the ANC’s powerful NEC and has the right to attend meetings where important decisions are made.

Zuma’s son, Duduzane, who is an ANC branch chairperson in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal and has expressed ambitions to run for president, is also mentioned in the report. He used to accompany Tony Gupta to meetings with government officials attached to SOEs and, although he didn’t speak, his presence indicated that the officials “better co-operate, because if they did not co-operate, their non-cooperation could be reported to President Zuma”, the report says.

Prosecutions

The findings in relation to those who are still important political players are critical in a year that the ANC is preparing for another elective conference. Ramaphosa has indirectly indicated that he is likely to make a bid for a second term in December, which means he would need supporters within the party.

His detractors, who have aligned themselves with Zuma, have indicated that they might launch a challenge, even though it’s not yet clear who their candidate could be. Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu has however expressed interest.

Rampahosa’s critics have also aligned themselves with large-scale destructive acts, such as the looting and arson that took place in July last year, and the burning down of the National Assembly chamber on 2 January.

The difficulty about leaving things to further investigation is that the crime trail gets cold.

Still, some of the findings against Ramaphosa allies are damning, and in some cases, their testimonies were rubbished by Zondo – not a good look for a president who promised to clean up corruption. Even though he has made moves to strengthen institutions, such as the National Prosecuting Authority, selective prosecution of those who are not in his camp could give his detractors ammunition against him and dent his public image ahead of the 2024 general elections.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela, whose report on state capture gave rise to the commission of inquiry, has already warned that things are moving too slowly.

“When I ordered a state capture commission I ordered it to investigate and therefore I didn’t expect it to recommend further investigations,” she told Johannesburg broadcaster Radio 702 on Wednesday morning. “The difficulty about leaving things to further investigation is that the crime trail gets cold.”

Some of Zondo’s findings relate to things that happened a decade ago, and although there are some moves to prosecute those who were implicated, the main players have so far evaded justice.

Findings

Mantashe’s evidence before the commission was deemed “implausible and inconsistent with the facts”. He was found to have been one of those who assisted Zuma in applying pressure to get Gama appointed as Transnet group CEO against the recommendations of the board.

Mantashe, who recently warned against going after individuals to “settle […] own scores internally”, said he supported Gama’s appointment because it was appropriate “to promote ‘black excellence” and that Gama had demonstrated his abilities during his career at Transnet.

Even though there was no white candidate in the running, Mantashe said he was concerned about racism should a white candidate be favoured by the board. Radebe is another minister who is said to have applied pressure to enable Gama’s appointment.

As for Ntshavheni, one of the findings against her is that she is “probably culpable”, together with other formal members of the parastatal, in the Guptas’ capturing of Denel. She was on the board – and not yet in political office – in 2015 when Daniel Mantsha was appointed chairperson. He turned out to be central to efforts by the Guptas and Essa to capture Denel.

Although Denel’s 2011 board was considered to have been competent, all but one were axed. Ntshavheni defended these moves, but Zondo said her explanation, and that of Mantsha, made “absolutely no sense”. They claim there was strong evidence that the sacked executives were guilty of serious acts of misconduct, but this evidence was never placed before these executives in a disciplinary inquiry.

Pessimism

Questions have arisen within the ANC as to whether the party can effectively clean itself up and address the corruption claims without falling apart. Already, the party is struggling to pay the salaries of its staff members.

A large amount of funding has dried up as some past donors have gone out of business and future donors have become more circumspect.

[There will be] no resolution and no dissolution, just more of the same.

The first part of Zondo’s report already pointed to a number of processes integral to the party’s functioning, such as the “deployment” of members to positions in government and government-related entities, as having been instruments of state capture.

The third and final part of the report is expected to deal more extensively with matters, such as kickbacks and party funding by companies like security contractor Bosasa, which was liquidated in the course of the hearings.

Corruption Watch executive director Karam Singh says he agreed with Ramaphosa’s testimony before the commission that the ANC was in the dock. “This is particularly relevant to the issue of cadre deployment and how it functioned in aid of repurposing state institutions for private gain and accumulation,” he said.

On whether the ANC will take meaningful action on Zondo’s report, Singh says: “I am somewhat pessimistic on this question. [There will be] no resolution and no dissolution, just more of the same.”

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