After the damning findings of an investigation revealed the multi-billion dollar looting of South Africa’s treasury under his predecessor, President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed “never [be] may happen again”.
But South Africans are not so sure that lessons will be learned.
They are angry that the stolen money should have been spent supporting the country’s beleaguered health care and education system.
The massive corruption investigation during Jacob Zuma’s presidency revealed how nearly every arm of the state has been stifled and bankrupted by leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled the country since the end of the white minority rule in 1994.
The report is a huge indictment against the party. President Ramaphosa himself stood in the firing line with the judge-led panel, declaring that he should have done more to prevent the transplant while he was Zuma’s deputy.
Over 5,000 pages, the Zondo Commission — named after its chairman, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — goes into forensic detail about how state resources were looted.
It also shows how the wealthy businessmen, the Gupta brothers, tried to influence political and economic decisions in a process known as “state capture.”
Zuma was ousted in February 2018 under the cloud of mounting corruption charges and Mr Ramaphosa took over, promising a clean-up.
The last parts of the report resulting from the Zondo commission were handed over on Wednesday. The president described what was found to be “an attack on our democracy, [violating] the rights of all South Africans”.
But some of the report’s conclusions leave the current president with questions about why he stood still.
“There was certainly enough credible information in the public domain… to at least prompt him to make inquiries and perhaps take action on some serious allegations.
“As vice president, he certainly had a responsibility to do that,” the report said.
Initially scheduled for 180 days, the hearings stretched to more than 400 days in which more than 300 witnesses testified. The whole process took almost four years.
The evidence revealed how ANC leaders, including former and current ministers, allegedly participated in or encouraged looting at a huge cost to the country.
This included paralyzing the country’s tax authorities, bringing its flag carrier South African Airways to its knees, looting the agency that runs the country’s passenger railways, and interfering with its public broadcaster, the SABC.
The Secret Service was also weakened by the appointment of senior spies who prevented investigations on behalf of Zuma and others considered close to him.
“The blurring of the lines between the ANC and the state was exposed, party interests were prioritized, crucial government departments were used for the benefit of individuals, resulting in manipulation and political influence,” said South African political analyst Dr Mcebisi Mdletyana.
This is further clarified in a damaging finding by Judge Zondo. “The ANC under Zuma has allowed, supported and enabled corruption.”
In an effort to cushion the blow to the ruling party’s tarnished reputation, the ANC issued a statement appreciating the committee’s work and said it would monitor its findings and “take steps to address them.” to grab”.
South Africans began to see the glaring signs of corruption at the highest levels in 2013, as well as the culture of undue influence and impunity. This was when Zuma allowed the Gupta brothers and their guests to land a commercial plane at a military base to attend a wedding.
This was a clear breach of national security. Questions were raised about how it could have happened and how much influence the Gupta family had over the state.
Other revelations followed, and in 2016 South Africa’s public protector Thuli Madonsela released a report detailing the connections between the Guptas and the government. She recommended the establishment of a judicial commission.
The commission, which began its work in 2018, heard how the Gupta brothers – Ajay, Rajesh and Atul – allegedly orchestrated widespread corruption with Zuma’s help.
They deny any wrongdoing.
The commission showed how Zuma’s son, Duduzane, “led between the Guptas and the government and participated in awarding government contracts to Gupta-affiliated companies.”
Duduzane Zuma maintains his innocence.
The report also revealed how Zuma colluded with the country’s former spy chief Arthur Fraser to shut down an investigation into the Gupta family in 2011, paving the way for the government purse to be drained.
South African authorities are currently working to extradite the Gupta brothers from the UAE to account for their alleged crimes. They were arrested in Dubai earlier this month after a red message from Interpol.
But others, including some of the ANC’s most powerful officials, should also be charged with corruption, fraud and money laundering, according to the Zondo commission.
President Ramaphosa said the commission’s recommendations will be implemented at the appropriate time.
Asked if action will be taken against members of his cabinet who are involved, he says he will “form a position within four months” and the plans will then be presented to parliament.
The test is whether action will be taken.
“If South Africa takes the fight against corruption seriously… those involved… [will be] criminally prosecuted and successfully prosecuted, [then] a good enough anti-corruption firewall would have been installed,” said Dr. Mdletyana.
But corruption cases are known to drag on for years with many delays, and the national prosecutor will need more resources to do so.
The fact that Zuma is still on trial for corruption charges related to an arms deal struck more than two decades ago – long before he became president – shows how long the process can take.
There are also allegations of corruption surrounding Ramaphosa’s government, particularly in the way money was spent during the Covid emergency.
Some analysts have compared the Zondo Commission to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established to investigate the crimes committed under apartheid.
The hope was that Zondo would put an end to government corruption, but as with the TRC, there are fears that the recommendations will not be followed.
As for the ANC, with less than two years left until the next general election, the once glorious and trusted former liberation movement is in danger of losing mass support.
In addition, Judge Zondo’s proposal to change election rules to allow South Africans to directly elect a president rather than use the party system would be devastating to the party that has been in power since 1994.
His findings have prompted South Africans to ask whether an ANC-backed president can be trusted to uphold his oath of office and put the country first.