A South African judicial panel that has spent almost four years probing endemic corruption has finally begun winding down, submitting the first of three reports to president Cyril Ramaphosa.
“This is a defining moment in our country’s effort to definitively end the era of state capture and to restore the integrity, credibility and capability of our institutions, but more importantly, our government,” Ramaphosa said at the handover ceremony in Pretoria, the capital. The document will be made public in the next few hours, he said.
More than 350 witnesses have appeared before the panel head by acting chief justice Raymond Zondo since August 2018, with some portraying how state coffers and companies were looted during former President Jacob Zuma’s almost nine-year tenure and others denying their complicity.
The initial report will detail findings related to state-owned airline South African Airways and its affiliates, the South African Revenue Service and The New Age, a newspaper owned by the Gupta family, who were close associates of Zuma, according to Zondo.
While some new information came to light during the commission’s hearings, many of the revelations had already been aired in the local media, and questions have been raised as to whether the inquiry was worth the R1 billion ($63-million) price tag.
No one implicated in graft during the hearings has been successfully prosecuted, despite the law having been changed to enable information presented to Zondo to be used in criminal cases.
That’s mainly due to a dire lack of capacity and expertise within the police and National Prosecuting Authority, which were gutted during Zuma’s rule and have made stuttering progress in rebuilding.
Several of those who were allegedly party to the looting spree continue to serve in senior positions in the government and in parliament because of the political clout they wield within the ruling African National Congress.
Ramaphosa, who became president in early 2018 after the party forced Zuma to quit, said he’ll only act once Zondo has completed his work and he has a fuller picture of what transpired. The judge is due to present his final two reports by the end of next month, along with recommendations as to what should be done to prevent a recurrence of wrongdoing.
“I will submit the full commission report to Parliament by the 30th of June 2022, with an indication of my intentions with regards to implementation of the commission’s recommendations,” Ramaphosa said.
“We will make sure there is implementation. We take the Zondo commission seriously, because we want clean government.”
Zondo came under fire from Zuma allies and other critics for interpreting his mandate far too broadly and for seeking multiple extensions to the commission’s tenure, which was initially supposed to last for just six months.
He’s also faced accusations that he’s dealt inconsistently with witnesses, with some being cross-questioned for days and others only making brief appearances.
Some of those who were most deeply implicated in the shenanigans escaped interrogation. Zuma appeared for just a few hours, but his lawyers frustrated the panel’s attempts to cross-examine him, and he flouted a court order to testify again – defiance that earned him a 15-month jail sentence.
The prisons department freed him on medical parole after less than two months, a decision that’s still being contested in court.
The infamous Gupta brothers, who were the alleged masterminds behind much of the theft, fled the country and the commission refused their offer to testify remotely. The US and UK have imposed asset freezes and other sanctions against them, but efforts to bring them to face justice in South Africa have failed.