South Africa’s ex-president appears at corruption inquest

Former South African president Jacob Zuma is appearing Monday before a state commission probing allegations of corruption in during his tenure as the country’s leader.

Zuma, South Africa’s president from 2009 until 2018, was forced to resign by his ruling African National Congress party over widespread reports of corruption and was replaced by his then deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Zondo Commission was created to investigate graft charges and the judicial inquest is a significant part of Ramaphosa’s drive to clean-up corruption, his main campaign pledge in the May elections where his party gained a 57% majority, its weakest since the end of apartheid 25 years ago.

The commission is probing widespread allegations, including that members of a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, influenced Zuma’s appointment of cabinet ministers and subsequently swayed the awarding of lucrative state contracts.

In this phenomenon, popularly known here at ‘state capture,’ Gupta family businesses allegedly took control of a large number of government departments and state-owned enterprises including the struggling power utility, Eskom.

The commission should help expose the extent of corruption and may lead to criminal charges, said Susan Booysen, research director at the South African think-tank Mapungubwe Institute of Strategic Reflection.

“It is not a guarantee that there will be a clean-up under Ramaphosa, but it will certainly show the extent of the rot and where the clean-up needs to happen,” said Booysen.

Several witnesses who have appeared before the commission have directly linked Zuma to the corruption allegations, including former cabinet ministers who claim to have been offered cabinet appointments by the Guptas.

A former cabinet spokesman, Themba Maseko, also alleged that Zuma had personally attempted to influence the awarding of significant government advertising contracts to the Guptas’ now-defunct media businesses. Some of these corruption allegations extend to the country’s tax collection agency and the national prosecuting authority.

Political analyst and researcher at the University of the Western Cape, Ralph Mathekga, has warned that Zuma is likely to fight back against the corruption charges and to reveal charges that implicate others.

“He has always threatened to reveal much more information than we know, so this is his chance,” said Mathekga. “He has his own narrative of state capture, so his testimony has the potential to throw the current narrative of state capture into a crisis.”

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