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Train Smash…


Train Smash…

Has The Gravy Train Finally Come Off The Rails?

Three years. More than 300 witnesses. Almost two million pages of documented evidence. And 1 438 people and entities implicated.

These are just some of the numbers behind the mammoth investigation into allegations of corruption, state capture and fraud in the public sector during former President Jacob Zuma’s nine years in power, from 2009 to 2018.

After more than 400 days of proceedings, the first two sections of the Zondo Commission report have now been released.

The first volume, made public on January 4, details the role played by the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper, the near demise of South African Airways (SAA) under the watch of Zuma’s close friend Dudu Myeni, the capture of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), and the corruption of the state procurement system through the tender system.

The second volume, released just days ago on February 1, looks at what went so badly wrong at Eskom, Transnet and disgraced arms supplier Denel.

On the face of it, the release of these reports is good news.

Judge Raymond Zondo has officially declared that former President Zuma advanced his own interests, and those of his close friends and allies, at the shameless expense of the people of South Africa – many millions of whom had elected him to power in the first place.

It was, as it turned out, a case of the tree voting for the axe simply because it had a wooden handle.

The damning evidence – well, two thirds of it anyway – is now out, and in the public domain. Several local newspapers carried the hundreds-of-pages-long reports in their entirety, for anyone interested in reading them.

There is, finally, nowhere left for the bad guys to hide.

But I have to ask…

Is any of it actually going to make the slightest bit of difference?

Forgive my cynicism, but it only takes a quick look at South Africa’s track record to reveal the reason for it.

Cast your mind back, for example, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Established as an opportunity to find accountability for apartheid crimes, the TRC released two reports, one in 1998, and the second in 2003.

There was, undeniably, a universal expectation that those found responsible for atrocities committed during the Apartheid era would be held accountable for their actions by the criminal justice system.

There should have been a mass of prosecutions.

There weren’t.

And who could forget the investigation into the deaths at the hands of the police of no fewer than 44 people, 34 of them miners, at Lonmin’s Marikana mine back in 2012? Judge Ian Farlam released a report of his findings, but no prosecution of those responsible was ever recommended or carried out.

Even Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s damning Life Esidimeni report in 2018, which highlighted the tragic deaths of 144 mentally ill patients as a direct result of deliberate cruelty and neglect by government officials, failed to generate prosecutions.

So, forgive me if I reserve the right to adopt something of a wait and see attitude, for a little while, at least, when it comes to actions taken as a result of the Zondo Commission’s findings.

And I’m not alone in these thoughts.

There seems to be widespread and understandable scepticism as to whether the government has the political will, or even the technical capability, to carry out the many recommendations outlined in the report.

Having said that, however, there’s no doubt that the findings released so far are pretty damning.

In the case of SARS, for example, once hailed as a world class tax body, the report found it had been deliberately and systematically weakened under the leader of one of Zuma’s ally’s Tim Moyane.

The reason?

“Its investigatory and enforcement capacity was a hurdle to people involved in organised crime.”

During Zuma’s tenure as President over 2,000 highly skilled senior staff members were lost. Among them were investigators who were ultimately forced out through bullying and fear.

In the case of SAA, investigations into the airline and its technical services unit revealed a legacy of corruption and fraud.

Former President Zuma forced a perfectly competent board to resign, leaving plenty of room for the appointment of an entirely unqualified and incompetent one that, unsurprisingly, quickly led our once proud national carrier to operational and financial ruin.

Zuma’s appointed chairwoman, Duduzile “Dudu” Cynthia Myeni, was described to members of the Commission as being “the antithesis of accountability.”

I could go on, but this isn’t the first time you’ve read my thoughts on the catastrophic corruption and governance practices in state owned enterprises.

What we need to focus on now, is what should happen next.

As South Africans, we desperately need to see some accountability in action.

We’re crying out for someone, somewhere to actually do something to make the bad guys pay.

We need that train de-gravied and put back on a whole new set of tracks.

It is a concern that our National Prosecuting Authority is so severely limited in its abilities to actively seek out prosecutions against those implicated in corruption scandals.

This is something that needs to be rectified – and fast.

The two Zondo Commission reports released so far provide more than enough evidence to start proceedings immediately. In fact, with its designated list of prospective defendants accompanying the mountains of evidence, the report pretty much hands prosecutors a blueprint for “how to pursue successful prosecutions” on a plate.

We must strike while the proverbial iron is hot.

When evidence is still fresh, it’s easy to corroborate. The longer we wait, the more blurred and inaccurate memories become. Witnesses disappear or change their minds.

A huge plus is that our current government, at least outwardly, appears committed to holding the people implicated in the report accountable.

President Ramaphosa has publicly stated that, “The handover of the second part of the report of the commission of inquiry is another step forward in the work we need to do to rid our country of corruption.

“During the past four years, the commission has constructed a disturbing picture of the depth and damage of state capture.

“We should apply our energies to the commission’s recommendations and take the necessary steps to make sure we never face this onslaught on public resources and on the fabric of our society.”

Now these words need to be put into action.

We need to see prosecutions pursued with gusto and purpose.

Not only would this help to reduce some of the endemic cynicism about democracy and good governance in South Africa, it would also send a strong message that the time, money, and energy invested in the Commission was for the public good.

Our government needs to show us how committed it is to taking massive steps towards freeing our country of the scourge of corruption that has eaten away at us like a cancer.

Who knows? This may actually prove to be something of a defining moment for President Ramaphosa, whom many have criticised for being too toothless for too long when it comes to tackling corruption within the ANC.

The bottom line is this:

After decades of struggle to deliver democracy and freedom, our hard-won democratic state was captured.

Vital, previously successful institutions were ruthlessly looted, and incomprehensible sums of public money were stolen.

Former president Jacob Zuma and his band of corrupt brothers and sisters have officially been found responsible – regardless of their protestations that they are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Now they must be held fully to account.

Justice needs to be done – and must also be seen to done.

I think this quote from a recent article in The Conversation sums things up perfectly:

“There will be many more twists in the plot. There will be lawfare, attempts to subvert the criminal justice system, which is still recovering from state capture. The power struggle within the governing African National Congress in the run up to its five-yearly national elective conference at the end of this year will be even more bloody as a result.

“If the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the moral compass of the nation, then Zondo is constructing an ethical map. How South Africa navigates its course in the coming years will define its long-term future.”

Solid groundwork has been carried out.

Mr President, it’s now over to you.