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Corruption in South Africa: a report points to the inaction of Cyril Ramaphosa under Jacob Zuma

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After four years of investigation into state corruption mounted by the former South African president, Jacob Zuma, and a sulphurous sibling of businessmen, a report published on Wednesday June 22 suggests that his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, could have acted against these misdeeds as vice-president. After 400 days of hearings, more than 300 witnesses and the examination of hundreds of incriminating documents which led to the questioning of nearly 1,500 people by a commission ad hoc chaired by Judge Raymond Zondo, the report, which spans 5,000 pages, is overwhelming.

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“The ‘state capture’ was a real attack on our democracy, it violated the rights of every man and woman in this country”, said President Ramaphosa during the official presentation of the report in Pretoria, using the term used in South Africa to designate the years of rampant corruption. He had estimated the amounts embezzled at the equivalent of more than 30 billion euros.

“He had the responsibility to do it”

But the current head of state is himself on the grill for an alleged passivity. Some of his answers about what he knew about corrupt activities were “opaque” and “unfortunately leave significant gaps”, according to the report. Could he have acted against this corruption? “The wealth of evidence available to this commission suggests that the answer is yes”says the report, according to which “there was surely enough credible information in the public domain […] to induce him to at least investigate and perhaps act on a number of serious allegations”. And “as vice-president, he certainly had a responsibility to do so”.

The person concerned, who has sworn to eradicate corruption by succeeding Jacob Zuma and will announce in Parliament in four months the opening of possible prosecutions, did not react immediately to the content of the report nor, a fortiori, to the relevant passages. The main character targeted nevertheless remains his predecessor. Since January and the handing over of the first of the six chapters, judge Zondo has demonstrated, as new sections of the investigation are published, how Jacob Zuma, described as “the puppet” of the Guptas, a sulphurous trio of businessmen of Indian origin, siphoned off the coffers of the State.

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The case, which has kept South Africans in suspense for several years with river hearings broadcast live on television, must now go to court. The commission has an advisory role, but its conclusions can be forwarded to the public prosecutor’s office. Judge Zondo has already recommended the opening of legal proceedings against more than 130 people, including several former ministers. Sentenced to fifteen months in prison for having stubbornly refused to testify before the commission of inquiry, Jacob Zuma, 80, is today on parole for medical reasons. His incarceration, in July 2021, had provoked an unprecedented wave of riots which left more than 350 dead.

Arrest of two of the Gupta brothers

The final presentation of the report comes a few weeks after the arrest of two of the Gupta brothers, at the heart of the scandal. Atul and Rajesh Gupta, targeted by an international arrest warrant from Interpol, were arrested in early June in Dubai. The news caused a jolt in a South Africa benumbed by a disillusionment with the institutions, a justice deemed ineffective and a police deemed corrupt. An extradition request is pending. The wealthy family is accused of having infiltrated the top of the state thanks to its long friendship with Mr. Zuma: influence on the choice of ministers, pressure to pocket public contracts, looting of public companies (electricity, transport, aviation) … before fleeing.

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Getting the two arrested suspects to appear in South African justice would be a blast for Cyril Ramaphosa, in turmoil after recent corruption charges. The head of state, who is aiming for an investiture to run for a new presidential term in 2024, is the subject of a complaint filed in early June. Former South African intelligence chief Arthur Fraser accuses him of concealing from the police and the tax authorities a burglary at one of his properties in 2020, during which large sums of cash, hidden in furniture, were stolen. At the head of a personal fortune, Mr. Ramaphosa, heckled during a recent appearance in Parliament, admitted that a sum had been stolen from him, while explaining that the money was drawn from the sale of animals of his farm, north of Johannesburg. The opposition is demanding that he withdraw to make way for an investigation.

The World with AFP