State capture inquiry: Ramaphosa makes history, shocking failings of ANC revealed
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President Cyril Ramaphosa became the first sitting president to subject himself to a Commission of Inquiry where he was questioned about what he had witnessed.
It was during former president Jacob Zuma's nine-year rule that the state allegedly suffered some of its worst graft, allegedly driven by the Guptas.
Ramaphosa was deputy president for four years under Zuma's tenure before succeeding him in 2018. He was also at the helm of the ANC.
While Ramaphosa claimed to be in the dark about much of the corrupt dealings, he told the inquiry that he chose not to speak out about the corruption as he could have been fired and argued that it was more effective to fight from within.
Ramaphosa said he believed state capture was a ’’well-organised project” that influenced policy and legal processes and offered protection to those involved.
He told the commission that they were ’’blind-sided’’ by Zuma's friendship with the Guptas.
Ramaphosa was questioned on key Gupta lieutenants that were appointed into state-owned entities (SOE) Transnet and Eskom and how this went unnoticed by himself and others.
Evidence heard previously at the inquiry revealed over R57 billion in government contracts were awarded to Gupta-linked entities by SOEs over several years.
Half of those deals were issued by Transnet. As these contracts were issued, key Gupta-linked individuals were placed at Transnet. One contract that was highlighted included the irregular acquisition of 1 064 locomotives at a cost of R54bn.
Evidence leader advocate Anton Myburgh put it to Ramaphosa that as many of these contracts were issued, key people such as former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba, who admitted to being close to the Guptas, had been in charge of Transnet.
Former CEO of Transnet Brian Molefe had also admitted to being close to the Guptas.
Ramaphosa said he was unaware of the relationship Gigaba had with the Gupta family and whether others did.
Ramaphosa responded that these incidents might have gone unnoticed by some as the depth of the web of capture continued to grow.
“Chairperson it is conceivable (for corruption to go unnoticed) in a state capture-type of environment where the capture of the State goes through a number of structures. They made sure that people who are going to implement this were appointed,” Ramaphosa said.
State Security Agency
Ramaphosa told the commission that part of the reason he brought the State Security Agency (SSA) under the Presidency was that he knew of the rogue presidential protection unit that reported to spy expert Thulani Dlomo.
"It is an agency that has been dogged with a lot of controversies. It has a lot of good people in it and we just need to realign its work. It is possible that in time to come, we may designate a person who can be in charge,” he said.
Ramaphosa said he knew of the breaches and abuse caused by this private and discreet force established in the SSA during Zuma’s tenure - which is one of the reasons he moved the agency under the Presidency’s watch for now.
Ramaphosa said he became aware of the extent of the issues at the SSA from the high-level panel report he had commissioned to investigate the agency. Ramaphosa made the report public in 2019.
Evidence leader for the commission advocate Paul Pretorius laid statements on the evidence heard about the agency and specifically its former leader, Arthur Fraser, who served as director-general until 2017.
Fraser had run the Principal Agent Network, an intelligence operation with a budget of R600 million, which was allegedly used to fund illegal and political operations. He was later appointed as national Correctional Services commissioner in 2018 – a move that raised concerns.
The inquiry had also heard evidence of how former state security minister David Mahlobo had abused SSA funds. An SSA employee testified at the inquiry that she had been requested to drop off more than R1 million at the home of Mahlobo, who now serves as deputy minister of water and sanitation.
When asked why Mahlobo and Fraser had remained in government service and not been removed, Ramaphosa said he was waiting for the Zondo commission's report before taking action.
"Yes, they are on the radar screen, I decided to wait for this process to complete and I shall soon have this report in my hands," Ramaphosa said.
On its final day of hearing oral evidence, the commission drew a line between state capture and how it had impacted the country’s national security in July when violent looting and civil unrest erupted in the country.
“Under lock and key in July were the lists of the operatives, the arms details… It would be unfortunate if those activities had a role in the events of July. It’s not an unreasonable proposition, is it?” Pretorius asked.
Ramaphosa said that it was “not an unreasonable proposition” and it formed part of the investigation currently under way.
“It is about security for the people of our country. There was a lapse, and we need to investigate how it happened and how it manifested itself,” said Ramaphosa.
"The commission is really going to be the final washing machine that will help us cleanse the state, the various agencies, and identify those who have committed and perpetrated wrong things. This is what we will be able to do. Because these things happened,” he said.
Shockingly, it was revealed at the commission that records from the ANC's national disciplinary committee showed that the party had allegedly not disciplined any ANC official for corruption from 2014 to 2021.
The commission’s evidence leader, advocate Paul Pretorius, told Ramaphosa that records submitted to the inquiry showed that the ANC had not disciplined any member concerning corruption.
He asked Ramaphosa whether he and the ruling party were concerned about that. Ramaphosa conceded that malfeasance was a major worry for the party.
"There has been contestation in the party on this one. That the party, for the most part, did not really live up to the value system that is the backdrop to its existence,” he said.
Ramaphosa conceded on numerous occasions that there was a "system failure" when it came to the ANC and government acting decisively and timeously to corruption.
"We should have been much more alert and active in enforcing accountability and we weren't," he told the commission.
In defence, he said the party was now on a journey towards renewal in order to correct the mistakes of not dealing with corrupt members in the past.
Ramaphosa also faced tough questions on the ANC's deployment committee, which is said to have made recommendations on the appointment of judges.
Pretorius said that the ANC's deployment committee had recommended the judges who were to fill two vacant positions – one at the Supreme Court of Appeal and another for judge president.
But the ANC leader painstakingly explained that the committee did not appoint any judges but merely made recommendations.
But Pretorius and Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo raised concerns that such recommendations could potentially influence the decision taken by the JSC tasked with recommending the appointment of judges.
The JSC consists of members of Parliament and leaders of the judiciary.
Ramaphosa defended the ANC's ability to make recommendations, saying lobbying and influence were normal acts worldwide. Whether that was positive or negative would depend on the motives.
In his closing remarks, Ramaphosa said that despite the excellent work by many investigators, academics and journalists, the true costs to the country of state capture may never be known.
“We may be able to establish how much of public funds has been stolen by how much costs for public goods and services may have been inflated, and what it has cost to investigate these cases and prosecute those responsible.
“We could quantify this in terms of hospital beds, commuter trains, houses, social grants, water reticulation, maintenance of roads and any number of other public goods and services,” he said.