Systemic corruption was pointed to South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma’s nine-year tenure in the first part of a report published on Tuesday by a corruption inquiry, after more than three years of investigations involving more than 300 witnesses.
The inquiry chaired by senior judge Raymond Zondo was established in 2018 to examine allegations of high-level corruption during Zuma’s years in power from 2009, after scandals and sleaze had overshadowed South Africa’s politics for years.
Zuma is accused of allowing businessmen and brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta to loot state resources and influence policy, in what is widely referred to in South Africa as “state capture”. The Gupta’s denied any wrongdoing.
Zuma who denied any wrongdoing refused to cooperate with the inquiry, leading to his imprisonment in July for contempt of court.
He was placed on medical parole in September before being ordered back to jail by the high court in December; a decision he is appealing.
The first instalment of the Zondo commission’s report focused on alleged corruption involving state airline South African Airways (SAA) and related entities, a media company controlled by the Guptas and the revenue service.
On SAA, it said the airline declined into “an entity racked by corruption and fraud” while Zuma was in power. Two former finance ministers told the inquiry that the SAA chairwoman at the time was retained because of the personal preferences of Zuma.
“This is the antithesis of accountability. President Zuma fled the Commission because he knew there were questions that would be put to him which he would not have been able to answer,” the report said. Spokespeople for Zuma and SAA did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment.
The Guptas employed “a calculated strategy … to appropriate public funds from state-owned enterprises” and said the influence that they exerted over Zuma was “considerable”, the inquiry found.
The revenue service, SARS, was “systemically and deliberately weakened, chiefly through the restructuring of its institutional capacity, strategic appointments and dismissals of key individuals, and a pervasive culture of fear and bullying”, it said. It cited Zuma and a former SARS commissioner as playing critical roles in dismantling it. SARS did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
The report recommended the government publish a national charter against corruption in public procurement, establish an independent anti-corruption agency, ensure protection for whistleblowers and that legislation on political party funding be amended.
By the end of February, two further parts of the report will be submitted to Ramaphosa that promised a plan to implement the inquiry’s recommendations by the end of June after Zondo handed him the first part of the report.