The South African Judicial Commission in the state capture, known as the Zondo Commission, recently handed over a quarter of its huge and heinous results to President Cyril Ramaphosa. As a fact-finding commission, former President Jacob Zuma’s administration had to determine whether there was relevant information for “state capture” and prosecutionary purposes related to corruption.
In November 2016, former public protector Thule Madensella recommended to the commission to complete its “State of Capture” report. Now after four years of long investigation, how will the commission evaluate?
Over the years, many of the leading figures in “state occupation” have tried to insult investigative journalists, NGOs, and researchers who have published their activities. Therefore, it was a competitive terrain. The Jondo Commission, however, followed the procedure of formal investigation, the main evidence, cross-examined about 300 witnesses and allowed those involved to respond.
Cross-examination was used to test the evidence. All this was done under the authority of the then Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Jondo. Although not a court of law, it is difficult to challenge the credibility of the commission’s work and its results.
Following the commission’s work, South Africans can no longer claim what happened during the destructive rule of former President Jacob Zuma (May 2009-February 2018). The financial value paid for it, the erosion of state institutions and the decline of moral public service are all products of this age.
Those involved cannot reliably claim that the occupation of the state was merely a fantasy or a fictitious political campaign against them.
The Commission has, in fact, discovered and exposed the reality of corruption in South Africa. Whether or not those involved are brought to justice, the commission has made sure that they are morally responsible. The devastating effects of corruption are now apparent. Hopefully, this is early enough to prevent irreversible isolation.
Like the previous Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which investigated violence and human rights abuses during apartheid, many South Africans would be skeptical about whether it could make a difference. Like the TRC, this commission is likely to receive more praise from outside than from within the country.
The process of almost four years on national television and the nature of the daily broadcast to the public has contributed a lot to make the public now more clear about the nature of corruption in the country.
To clarify ‘state occupation’
In the Zuma years, “state capture” as a concept was often disrespected by Zuma and his supporters. Most recently, Zuma dismissed it as a political campaign against him. It is important, therefore, that the terms of the commission include an in-depth investigation into the nature and scope of the “state occupation”.
“Occupation of the State”, the Commission concluded, was not only about corruption in the public sphere or the relationship between Zuma’s family and the Guptas, but also Zuma’s friend behind the occupation. It was also about the infiltration of ruling African National Congress (ANC) politicians into state institutions and state-owned enterprises.
Politicians were concerned with how to use their position in these institutions to build a corrupt relationship with the private sector – both local and international – and to share material gains. These included Bosasa, KPMG, McKinsey, Trillion Capital, Bell Pottinger and several South African banks. The commission also revealed how these politicians recruited supporters in the main criminal justice, revenue services and intelligence agencies.
These operatives, police and investigators will protect politicians against investigations and will also be used to discredit Zuma’s opponents in the ANC. Corruption has therefore become a means of political consequence of state occupation. Without the protracted public hearings of the Zondo Commission, the people of South Africa would not have understood what the occupation of their state was.
ANC faction and state occupation
Although the commission did not deliberately investigate it, the evidence it heard confirmed a coexistence between state occupation and the ANC factions. Zuma emerged as the main protagonist. When he was asked to appear before the commission, his refusal became the focal point of his “radical economic transformation” faction in the ANC.
It emphasizes his efforts to politicize the judiciary and claims that it was under the influence of President Cyril Ramaphosa against him.
Zuma used his imprisonment by the Constitutional Court for contempt of court, after refusing to appear before the commission, to present himself as a sacrificial political prisoner. It may become clear in the future that without the commission’s determination, Zuma would not have been arrested at any time.
The legacy of this state-occupied history is the deeply divided ANC. Jondo reports paint a clear picture of how it has evolved, in the form of cabinet reshuffles, distorting South Africa’s revenue service, or using the media (such as the Sunday Times, New Age and ANN7) to insult political opponents in the ANC.
Loss of state power
The commission did not only highlight the main actors in the state capture drama. Daily displays on live TV show how parastatals were systematically infiltrated and their budgets and resources were milked. Critically important infrastructural initiatives such as Power Utility, Transport Corporation Transnet, Prosa and SA Airways (SAA) have lost their power.
Institutional loss in the form of loss of experienced human capital, loss of services such as passenger and freight rail transport, unreliable electricity and water supply, irregular revenue collection and collapse of local governments, all this does not mean that the state works for others. Interests, but very ineffectively.
In the future it may become clear that this process and how the Jondo Commission unveiled it to the public has contributed to a paradigm shift in the economic philosophy of the ANC government. Most recently, South African Airways has been partially “privatized.” Eskom is merging into three companies and will include a significant individual component in future power generation. Transnet will soon allow private passenger and freight train services Without public outrage and pressure from the Commission’s hearings, it may take longer to reach this stage.
The 5th volume of the commission’s report is still pending. Several recommendations were made in the first four sections. In the first, procurement methods in the public sector were addressed and a new system was proposed. As a result, government procurement services are now becoming more professional.
Regarding state-owned enterprises, the procedure for appointing their board members and senior executives and individual requirements will also be addressed. Numerous recommendations for further investigation or trial of individuals and private business entities involved have been included.
But is this enough?
South Africans want guarantees to prevent future state occupations or widespread corruption. Ideally, the Commission should present policy and institutional design as such a guarantee. The proposed national charter against corruption is such a recommendation, but there is no possibility of a more comprehensive design.
Early-warning measures to identify a potential recurrence, and prevention to maximize the risk and cost of corruption, can be the starting point.
The Zondo Commission has done its job. Was it successful? For answers, ask if it is possible to imagine a resettled South Africa without a commission. My answer is “no”.
Dark Cottage, Professor of Political Science, University of South Africa
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