JOHANNESBURG – The final findings of a three-year investigation into deep-seated corruption in South Africa were released Wednesday, as part of a roughly 5,000-page report heavily implicating the country’s former president, Jacob Zuma, but also finding errors in the way current President Cyril Ramaphosa handled allegations of wrongdoing.
South Africa’s Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who headed the Judicial Commission, presented the latest findings, tied in the colors of the South African flag, to Mr Ramaphosa at a televised event on Wednesday night. It was the fifth installment published since January of the investigation into ‘coup d’état’ – the endemic corruption of officials and businesses that has contributed to South Africa’s economic and political problems.
“The state imprisonment was an attack on our democracy and a violation of the rights of every man, woman and child in this country,” Ramaphosa said on Wednesday. He said his office would develop a plan to implement the report’s recommendations within four months.
Mr Zuma features prominently in the findings. In 2016, a report by a constitutional watchdog, the Public Protector, examined his relationship with the Gupta brothers, Indian-born businessmen who wielded such power that they were able to elect cabinet ministers. Zuma started the investigation by the Judicial Commission in response to the first report, but when he lost political power, the commission compounded his downfall. His refusal to testify before it led to his arrest on charges of contempt a year ago. Mr. Ramaphosa and other prominent political figures appeared before the panel.
The Gupta brothers, arrested in Dubai this month, amassed enormous wealth during Mr Zuma’s presidency through lucrative state contracts in all sectors from mining to media. This led to the erosion of state-owned enterprises, such as the national electricity supplier and the national railway company, earlier parts of the report said.
The new report says the family used a major military air base to welcome guests coming in for a wedding, and used their media company and proximity to officials to milk the South African Broadcasting Corporation for money and influence. According to the report, Mr Zuma’s son became a conduit between the Guptas and the government. Other high-ranking political officials also made the brothers’ request, the report found, often at the expense of the country’s poor.
The source of the Gupta families’ power, according to the report, lay in their close relationship with Mr Zuma. Zuma’s other allies, he said, used key institutions, such as the state security service, to wage the political battle between the factions.
Mr Zuma has repeatedly denied doing anything.
The report describes corruption as permeating almost every part of South Africa’s public service. Several politicians, some of whom are considered allies of Mr Ramaphosa, are also named in the report.
“This is a turning point, because now people’s eyes are open,” said William Gumede, president of the Democracy Works Foundation. The report has exposed the systemic party within the ruling party, the African National Congress, he added, and South Africa will no longer put it on a “pedestal”.
Yet any change will come slowly, after the national prosecution authority was also paralyzed by corruption. It is likely to be further delayed by infighting in the African National Congress as it discusses the fallout from the report, Mr Gumede said.
Mr Ramaphosa is currently shrouded in his own corruption scandal. He faces questions about a 2020 break-in at his farm, which was never reported. A political enemy and ally of Mr. Zuma accused Mr. Ramaphosa of covering up the theft of between $4 million and $8 million in US currency to avoid control over having large sums of cash stashed away. That same ally, former state security chief Arthur Fraser, was also involved in the corruption report.
The so-called Farmgate scandal comes ahead of a party conference in which Mr Ramaphosa is campaigning for re-election. He was not unscathed by the recent report.
Mr Ramaphosa campaigned for an extension ticket, both for the ruling ANC and for South Africa as a whole. The report accused Mr. Ramaphosa and the ANC have been slow to respond to corruption, saying their ambivalence has allowed corruption to flourish.
“It is not possible to find solutions to coup d’état and corruption,” the commission said, “if the ruling party does things that either protect those involved in corruption and state capture, or adopt positions that are fertile ground for coup d’état and corruption. .”
The report also recommended a change to South Africa’s electoral system that would reduce party power and allow voters to choose their leaders directly.
As the ruling party since the end of apartheid, the ANC could have used its majority in parliament to investigate and condemn corruption, the report said. Instead, it blocked parliamentary oversight.
As the scandals unfolded, the party not only ignored calls from staunch members to act against corruption, but also ignored some of its own internal checks and balances to tackle corruption, doing little more than issuing media statements, the report found. When it tried to act — for example, when the party wanted to hold Mr Zuma accountable for his relationship with the Gupta brothers — the ANC’s own emphasis on unity limited its ability to do so.
The report questioned what Mr. Ramaphosa, as Mr. Zuma’s deputy in the party and in the government, knew and whether he was doing enough to stop the corruption. The report also questioned his testimony that he only learned the extent of the corruption along with the rest of the general public, pointing to public allegations against Mr Zuma and the Gupta brothers dating back to 2010.
The commission examined Mr Ramaphosa’s evidence and said “the question of what he knew is still a bit opaque.”