By Linda Bordoni
Many South Africans said they were surprised when the former President actually turned up on Monday morning at the Johannesburg State Capture Commission to respond to claims he allowed friends and cronies to plunder state resources and influence government appointments.
But looking relaxed, and encouraged by a group of clapping and chanting supporters, Jacob Zuma arrived at the Commission on time, and in his opening remarks, claimed to be the victim of conspiracy by enemies who, he said, had been trying to get rid of him for over 20 years.
During the hearings, lawyers for the Commission of Inquiry will question 77-year-old Zuma about claims by previous witnesses that he allowed members of the Gupta family, who were his friends, to influence his administration’s appointments and to flout government rules to further their business interests.
His own ex-Finance Minister estimates that more than 7.2 billion US dollars may have been looted during Zuma’s leadership of the country that is struggling with widespread poverty, record rates of unemployment, the influx of millions of refugees and an AIDS pandemic.
But Zuma, ousted by the governing African National Congress in February 2018 and replaced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has consistently denied wrongdoing over his nine years in power.
Zuma himself set up the Corruption Inquiry he now sits before in his final weeks as president, when under pressure from rivals within the ANC who feared scandals surrounding its leader could indelibly tarnish the party's reputation ahead of national elections.
The Inquiry, headed by South Africa's deputy chief justice, held its first hearing last August and is due to finish next year.
Signal to the people
President Ramaphosa, Zuma's former deputy, has made sweeping personnel changes in government and state-owned companies as part of an effort to curb corruption and revive the stagnant economy. But it’s the outcome of the Inquiry that could definitely quash the lingering influence that Zuma and his allies continue to exert over the ANC’s top decision-making bodies AND send a strong signal to the people that the government really is tackling the evil of corruption face-on!