On the Record | State capture and looted billions - is SA making any progress fighting corruption?

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President Cyril Ramaphosa receiving the fifth and final Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture from Raymond Zondo.
President Cyril Ramaphosa receiving the fifth and final Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture from Raymond Zondo.
Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius
  • State capture has been well documented by investigative journalists and the Zondo Commission. 
  • Billions are believed to have been stolen from the state during state capture, but this doesn't account for the lost tax income and stagnant economic growth.
  • Experts said that aside from the need for prosecutions, South Africa needs a systemic programme to address corruption in the country. 

Years of reporting by investigative journalists and the subsequent inquiry into State capture headed by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, revealed the extent to which state resources were used to benefit a select few. 

An estimated R50 billion was channelled from state entities to the infamous Gupta family during the period of state capture associated with Jacob Zuma's presidency from 2009 to 2018, but this figure does not include the billions lost due to stagnant economic growth and lost tax income. 

Join News24's On The Record summit on September 1, where we will be discussing state capture and rooting out corruption.

News24's assistant editor for in-depth news, Pieter du Toit, will facilitate a panel discussion focusing on state capture and rooting out corruption in South Africa. He'll be joined by Justice Minster Ronald Lamola, Investigating Directorate (ID) head advocate Andrea Johnson, and Lawson Naidoo, the executive secretary at the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac).  

Purchase tickets here

Corruption has, however, been endemic to post-apartheid South Africa and has been well documented, with notable examples including the arms deal and the Bosasa scandals. 

News24 spoke to five experts about what the key problems are in terms of state capture and rooting out corruption, what the plans are to solve it, and whether enough is being done: 

What are the main problems in terms of state capture and rooting out corruption in South Africa? 

Ziyanda Stuurman, author of Can We Be Safe? The future of policing in South Africa, said that the country hasn't really emerged from state capture. 

"We've been able to rid the political system of the Gupta brothers and many of their acolytes and connections, but I think sort of broadly what we haven't rid the system of is the levels of unaccountability and real corruption that have been left behind." 

She said many institutions are struggling to shake off the idea that they were merely vehicles for the "Gupta brothers cabal" to do their work and operate. 

"We're at a point where many of those institutions either have been weakened, or have lacked internal accountability." 

The Institute for Security Studies' (ISS) head of governance, crime and justice, Gareth Newham, said state capture became an issue because those in power, the ANC, were more interested in amassing wealth for themselves and their families than delivering services. 

"That's ultimately the problem: that [former] president Jacob Zuma used his power primarily in his own personal and political interests so that mass looting of public resources could take place. And that was the primary objective of his term in office," Newham told News24.

READ | On the Record: A summit about South Africa's future 

Corruption Watch senior researcher Melusi Ncala said state capture was a network, and therefore dismantling it would be no easy task. 

University of Western Cape's Dullah Omar Institute director and co-founder of Africa Criminal Justice Reform, Lukas Muntingh, said state capture was corruption for both exploitative purposes and for protective purposes where certain people were placed in positions to protect others. 

This means, Muntingh said, that many of those people still hold key positions within the state machinery. 

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said a lack of transparency has resulted in the level of corruption seen in the country today. 

"If we are able to ensure procurement contracts are transparent and more public oversight begins to take place, the red flags and halting of many of these contracts will take place long before the money is paid to dubious contractors,” he told News24. 

What are the plans to address state capture and corruption in South Africa? 

Newham said the state’s plan to address state capture and corruption started with the inquiry into state capture in South Africa, also known as the Zondo Commission. 

“And the idea was that this commission of inquiry would get on top of what was state capture, how it operated, who was involved and then what could be done to stop it. And then we have a record of who was involved and there should be recommendations about how to prevent it from happening in the future.” 

He said the next step would be how the recommendations made by Zondo would be implemented and how to do that in a practical way. 

Muntingh added the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has plans to prosecute around 350 people the Zondo Commission recommended for potential prosecution. 

“In the end, one must ask the question of whether that prosecution will solve the problem? If we place so much emphasis on prosecutions, aren't we neglecting the capacity building and preventive obligations?” 

READ | Qaanitah Hunter: Don’t be tempted to devalue Zondo report, it’s a true manifestation of our democracy

Stuurman said the Zondo Commission reports were really important for the public to understand what happened and how many levels of the state were affected. 

“I would assume that the plan from there would be to launch criminal litigation. But, I think the Presidency is playing things very close to its chest. And certainly, I don't think that we've seen anything from SAPS that has given us clear indications on what the next steps are.” 

Ncala said South Africa needs systemic changes to address corruption and state capture that is detailed in the Zondo Commission report. 

“Apart from just the individual prosecutions that the country is hoping to see, it's about what laws are we going to strengthen? What laws are we going to create to ensure that we don't find ourselves in a similar position as we did during... state capture?” 

Is enough being done to address state capture and corruption in South Africa?

Ncala said while the NPA has indicated that it is close to prosecuting some of the main state capture role players it remains to be seen when this will happen. 

And, he added, it should happen sooner rather than later. 

Stuurman said that while she understands that it takes long to build criminal cases, and the NPA has admitted that it lacks resources, not enough is being done to address state capture and corruption. 

Newham added that there has been “very slow movement” to address state capture and corruption in the country. 

He said what he would have liked to see was a “wholesale reckoning” by the governing party where everyone implicated is taken to the party’s disciplinary committee, and removed from the organisation. 

“We still have people that are deeply implicated in state capture [who] are sitting as deputy ministers and chairpersons of parliamentary portfolio committee committees. 

“The [ANC’s] national executive committee and the government is littered with people who were either enablers of state capture or beneficiaries of state capture. And while those people are in key positions, they can use those positions to frustrate the ability of the ANC to fight against any attempts to try to improve the party's integrity.” 

READ | Susan Booysen: Zondo Commission report - ANC beyond acting definitively against rot

Muntingh said that entities such as the NPA are facing significant constraints, while elements of corruption such as procurement have not yet been solved through law reform. 

Duvenage added that the state is doing very little to install any significant level of trust while the various ministers leave a lot to be desired.

“Government needs to increase capacity building in all sectors of the criminal justice system, possibly even introduce dedicated corruption courts with well-trained judges who are specialised in forensic and corruption matters, to get through the mountain of work that has been uncovered by the [Zondo] Commission.”

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