In riveting testimony before a South African commission investigating corruption and graft, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ruling ANC party did little to prevent corruption, including by his predecessor Jacob Zuma.
“State capture and corruption have taken a great toll on our society and indeed on our economy as well,” Ramaphosa said. “They have eroded the values of our constitution and undermined the rule of law. If allowed to continue they would threaten the achievement of growth, development and transformation of our country.”
“The governing party ‘could and should’ have done more to prevent corruption,” he admitted.
The South Africa Commission on State Capture is probing allegations of graft during former president Jacob Zuma’s nine years in power, including claims that Zuma allowed businessmen close to him – brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – to influence policy and win lucrative government contracts.
The Guptas have also been accused of influencing the hiring and firing of ministers. Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene had resisted Zuma’s plans for the government to build expensive nuclear plants and was removed in 2015.
Zuma and the Guptas have repeatedly denied the allegations against them.
According to the current president, it took time for the ANC to recognize high-level corruption during the period, but that he would not try to “make excuses or to defend the indefensible”. He did not mention Zuma by name.
In recent months, former president Zuma defied a court order to appear before the commission, prompting its chief investigator to seek a two-year prison sentence for contempt of court. When the country’s top court heard that case last month, Mr. Zuma again refused to appear — a move that many saw as open defiance of the country’s democratic institutions.
Atul, Ajay, and Rajesh Gupta arrived from India in the 1990s and set up a small computer business before taking large stakes in uranium, gold, and coal mines. They also set up a luxury game lodge, an engineering company, a newspaper, and a 24-hour TV news station.
All three brothers are reported to be billionaires in the country’s rand currency. Atul Gupta was listed by the research company, Who Owns Whom, the richest person of color in South Africa in December 2016 with 10.7 billion rands. Atul arrived in South Africa in 1993, selling shoes and computers from the trunk of his car. Rajesh and Ajay followed their brother, and in 1997 the family, which already had business interests in India, set up Sahara Computers.
In 2007, new laws made it essential for big companies to have Black directors — especially if they were bidding for government contracts. Zuma’s son Duduzane began working as a 22-year-old trainee at the Guptas’ Sahara Computers, and he was quickly appointed to the boards of several Gupta companies.
One of Zuma’s daughters was a director at Sahara Computers, and one of his wives worked at the Guptas’ JIC Mining Services.
The corruption allegations have led to the popular use of the term “state capture” to describe the Guptas’ undue influence of private business interests over government institutions.