By Linda Bordoni
The State Capture Inquiry is spotlighting the allegations of graft that clouded Jacob Zuma's nine-year presidency and provides a strong signal to the nation that the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is delivering on his promise to fight corruption.
But, as Russell Pollitt SJ points out, the crunch is still to come.
The Director of the Jesuit Institute in South Africa told Linda Bordoni that at the heart of the matter are allegations that Zuma allowed his business friends, the Guptas, to plunder state resources and influence senior government appointments.
This happened to such an extent during Zuma’s years in power, the term “State Capture” is being used to describe how much businesses and politicians conspired to influence the country's decision-making process to advance their own interests.
The State Capture Inquiry, which began hearing the testimonies of various people last August, Father Russell Pollitt explained, was set up to investigate allegations that the State had been “captured” by a powerful Indian family, the Guptas, and this all took place under the reign of President Jacob Zuma (2009-2018).
The Inquiry, also known as the “Zondo Commission”, is led by the Deputy Chief Justice, Ray Zondo, is currently hearing the testimony of the former president himself.
Pollitt said that beginning on Monday, Zuma “started off giving this long, rambling political speech in which he said a whole lot of things that didn’t make sense”, and has since been ducking questions.
“What he did was namedrop a whole lot of people who were Ministers in his own Cabinet, whom he claims are spies” involved in a conspiracy plot against him, Pollitt said, noting that Zuma comes across as a man “who is very afraid, and trying to not come clean on what he knows”.
The Inquiry has no legal standing but it is important
Pollitt explained that although the Inquiry has no legal standing it will give Cyril Ramaphosa, a series of recommendations upon which he will have to take action deciding whether or not they will lead to prosecutions.
He explained that the Inquiry is important “because the Deputy Chief Justice was appointed to lead this and he is a man of high standing, and ultimately, when the report is handed over, the president will have to decide what to do with it”.
Pollitt said the proceedings are garnering a lot of interest across the board: “There are a lot of journalists present, ongoing reports, it’s screened all day on a TV channel.”
He said it is also generating a lot of frustration as citizens continue to express their view that Zuma is a liar and will say anything to cover up.
“There is a feeling of hopelessness that anything substantial will come out of it and that Zuma will take responsibility for the mess that he left the South African State in,” he said.
On a personal note, Pollitt expressed his hope that the Inquiry will lead to prosecutions.
“I hope that not just Zuma, but a whole lot of people who surrounded him will be called to account,” he said.
He said it is also very relevant that right from the beginning of the Inquiry it has become public knowledge that a number of people involved in big businesses and in state-owned enterprises are implicated: “This web went very deep. The tentacles and the grip of the Gupta family that had the President in their pocket went very deep, and it’s quite clear that the country lost millions”.
“I hope that this Commission will be able to come up with concrete evidence and that the president has the courage to act on that evidence and that, eventually we will see people who are called to account by going to prison or however the Lord decides they need to be dealt with,” he said.
A signal for governments in Africa and beyond
Pollitt notes that the Commission sends an important signal beyond the nation, “especially to the African Continent, where African leaders who have done terrible things and brought nations to their knees have never been held to account”.
There is always this idea, he explained, that the older statesman, who has been there for a long time, cannot be called to account.
I hope, he said, South Africa is setting a trend by showing-up a president, who has brought such difficulty and allowed corruption to flourish under his tenure, and that he will be brought to justice.
“The real crunch,” Pollitt noted, “is going to come when this Commission wraps up and has to decide what to choose to do with the evidence”.