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The big investigation into corruption in South Africa

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This week in South Africa was released the final report of an investigation that began in 2018 to investigate alleged crimes of corruption and fraud in the public sector under the government of the African National Congress (ANC), the party in power in the country since apartheid ended in 1994. The investigation was conducted by the Zondo commission (named after the president of the Supreme Court, Raymond Zondo) and lasted a total of four years. The report is more than 5,000 pages long and details the systemic corruption of institutions and the looting of the state coffers carried out by the ANC over the past thirty years, and in particular by former president Jacob Zuma until 2018.

The report in particular speaks of a very extensive and deep-rooted criminal system which is defined as “state capture“, In which a small group exerts influence on the government to obtain economic benefits.

At the heart of this system would be the wealthy and influential Gupta family (and in particular the three brothers Ajay, Rajesh and Atul), of Indian origin, who moved to South Africa in the early 1990s and have managed important engineering businesses ever since. and the extraction of resources: with the collaboration of the party in power and President Zuma, it would have influenced South African public bodies and institutions for years to obtain advantages and gains.

Zuma was president from 2009 to 2018 and has ended up at the center of scandals related to the illicit use of public money several times. According to the report, from the beginning of his tenure the Guptas would find in Zuma “someone whose character was such that he could use him against the people of South Africa” ​​and Zuma “would do whatever the Guptas wanted him to do.” In particular, Zuma allegedly made people wanted by the Gupta occupy positions of power, who guaranteed public works contracts to the family’s companies in exchange for bribes.

The ANC released a statement expressing its appreciation for the commission’s work and saying it will take note of the report’s findings and take action. Both the Gupta and the Zuma, on the other hand, have denied any accusations against them and have argued that the investigation is only a political operation to weaken them.

The president in office in South Africa since 2018, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is part of the African National Congress and was vice-president during Zuma’s tenure, commented on the report of the Zondo commission saying that what emerged is an attack on democracy and the rights of South Africans. and that such a thing must not be allowed to happen again. However, the report also cites his responsibility for maintaining a passive role within the system and not being able to intervene more effectively to defuse certain corrupt mechanisms.

In addition, Ramaphosa is accused by the report of having asked for funding for his election campaign from people already known to be suspected of corruption.

The report of the Zondo commission takes up, among other things, a story that had emerged in 2016 and was named in the “Guptagate” press, in which a member of the Zuma government, Mcebisi Jonas, had told of being approached by one of the members of the family Gupta with the proposal to appoint him Minister of Finance. Soon after the then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who had firmly opposed widespread corruption practices as well as imprudent management of national finances, was fired and replaced with a very unpopular and inexperienced deputy, chosen by the Guptas, which was then replaced again in a short time.

Among the people cited in the report and believed to be involved in the system are Zuma’s collaborators such as Ace Magashule, who according to the investigation acted by diverting public investments in the companies of the Gupta; Tom Moyane, who headed the South African Revenue Service and would use it entirely for his interests; and Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, involved in more than one of the Gupta societies.

According to the report, the system was also involved in the State Security Agency, which would have spent large sums of money without reporting them and conducted operations in favor of the members of the African National Congress, in addition to obeying Zuma’s request not to investigate the Gupta family.

The Zondo commission, however, is not a court and what will happen from now on will depend on the judiciary: the report asks to investigate and try a dozen people involved, including ministers, parliamentarians, managers of state companies and the president himself. Zuma. The infiltrations of the system set up by the Gupta, however, have also reached the bodies that should investigate and judge the crimes, which will need to be healed before they can proceed with one or more trials.

Meanwhile, in early June, two members of the Gupta family were arrested in Dubai and extradition negotiations are underway.

The commission’s report also contains some recommendations on how to make sure this doesn’t happen again: stricter procurement rules, a body that controls appointments in state-owned companies, an anti-corruption commission, and a president elected by direct population vote. . The tremendous work of the Zondo commission and its integrity in investigating institutional representatives has been compared by some to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a special tribunal set up in 1995 by then-president Nelson Mandela and the archbishop and activist Desmond Tutu to rebuild South Africa after years of racial segregation.