Inquiry likely to be disturbing as full extent of state capture unravels

19 August 2018 - 10:01 By Ranjeni Munusamy
Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul.
Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul.
Image: MARTIN RHODES

What does South Africa still need to know about state capture after all the revelations of looting of the public purse?

Media investigations and the publishing of leaked Gupta emails caused a deluge of information on how the capture project was executed and lined up the politicians and officials who aided the plunder.

The state capture commission of inquiry‚ chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo‚ therefore appears to be a long‚ exhaustive process to rake through all the muck.

What the inquiry will not do is lead to prosecutions for wilful and widespread corruption. Like other commissions on inquiry‚ there is a danger that it might serve to suspend action in the criminal justice system until the process is completed.

But the inquiry is necessary for several reasons. South Africans will get to hear first-hand the experiences of those who blew the whistle on state capture and the details of their experiences with the Guptas and their cohorts.

In the case of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas‚ who was offered the position of finance minister in place of Nhlanhla Nene in 2015‚ he will for the first time explain how the Guptas first tried to bribe him‚ then threatened him.

He has been dealing with the humiliation and anger ever since‚ and the offer scuppered the political career of one of the ANC’s brightest stars.

Themba Maseko‚ the former government spokesman‚ is the only person who has directly implicated former president Jacob Zuma in the Guptas’ accessing of state money. He received a phone call directly from Zuma asking him to aid the brothers with government advertising. Maseko’s evidence will necessitate Zuma to appear before the commission to respond.

Up to now‚ Zuma has fobbed off allegations of state capture and has not been held accountable for his actions as president.

But the big question hanging over the commission is whether Zuma‚ his son Duduzane‚ the Guptas‚ the ministers who did their bidding and the legion of officials in government and state-owned enterprises will in fact cooperate with the commission.

Unlike with parliamentary hearings‚ witnesses will be examined by a battery of lawyers representing various parties. While the evidence given to the commission cannot be used in prosecutions‚ the judge can use the information to recommend who ought to face consequences and what these should be.

The Guptas have shown complete contempt for the people of South Africa‚ their elected representatives and the rule of law. It is highly unlikely they will suddenly make themselves available to answer the avalanche of allegations of corruption and theft of taxpayers’ money.

With a dysfunctional National Prosecuting Authority and compromised investigations by the Hawks‚ it is possible the perpetrators of state capture may never be held accountable.

The inquiry might therefore be the only process through which the extent of capture project is determined.

It was the landing of a chartered jet carrying a gaggle of 300 wedding guests at Waterkloof air force base on April 30 2013 that made South Africans aware that the Gupta family enjoyed privileges that nobody else in the country did.

The extravagant‚ garish wedding at Sun City became the talk of the town‚ and only years later‚ the full offence of the extravaganza was exposed. Apart from the breach of a military facility and abuse of state resources‚ courtesy of the Guptas’ friendship with Zuma‚ up to R30m was siphoned from the Estina dairy farm project for the wedding.

The outrage over the plane landing‚ questions about the funding of The New Age business breakfasts by state-owned entities and even talk after the 2014 elections that some ministers were informed of their cabinet appointments by the Guptas did little to deter the family’s pursuit of full control of the state.

Then on December 9‚ 2015‚ the Guptas made a play for the jewel in the crown – the National Treasury. There was widespread alarm over Zuma’s dismissal of Nene as finance minister and appointment of the little-known Des van Rooyen. After four days of economic turbulence‚ Zuma was forced to undo the damage by appointing Pravin Gordhan to his former position of finance minister.

Three months later‚ Jonas blew the lid on the brazenness of the Guptas’ attempt to capture the Treasury. His revelation triggered more confessions.

Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor said she too had been offered a cabinet post by the Guptas‚ and claimed that Zuma had been present at the family’s Saxonwold compound‚ in another room‚ when the offer was made.

Maseko then revealed his interactions with Zuma and attempts by Ajay Gupta to strong-arm him to direct government advertising to their media platforms.

The mounting evidence of state capture resulted in the ANC national executive committee deciding to investigate the allegations‚ but this was later called off. With Zuma’s repeated denials of knowledge of state capture‚ the matter had become too politically explosive.

Two days after Jonas issued his media statement‚ the Dominican Order of Catholic priests asked then public protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the veracity of his allegations and whether Van Rooyen’s appointment as finance minister was known by the Guptas beforehand.

They also threw the net wider: “All business dealings of the Gupta family with government departments and SOEs to determine whether there were irregularities‚ undue enrichment‚ corruption and undue influence in the awarding of contracts‚ mining licenses‚ government advertising in the New Age newspaper‚ and any other governmental services.”

DA leader Mmusi Maimane also asked the public protector to investigate the allegations and included that she should investigate whether Zuma had breached the Executive Ethics Code by “exposing himself to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and their private interests”.

In October 2016‚ Madonsela released an explosive report exposing massive corruption at state-owned companies such as Eskom‚ Transnet‚ Denel‚ SAA and the SABC‚ and that Zuma used his position or information entrusted to him to enrich himself and businesses owned by the Gupta family and his son.

Madonsela indicated that there was much more to investigate and that a judicial commission be given the power to do this.

After a hard fight by civil society organisations‚ churches‚ the media and opposition parties‚ the Zondo commission was appointed in January.

Seven months later‚ it begins the process of public hearings and it is estimated that the commission could last up to two years.

It is likely to be a protracted‚ cathartic and disturbing process as we discover the full extent of the betrayal of the constitution and the people of South Africa.

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