/ 20 August 2018

Day one of state capture inquiry gets underway

'[Judge] Zondo will be an excellent chairperson of the state capture commission but he must operate within the context of a commission of inquiry
Deputy chief justice Zondo. (City Press/Herman Verwey)

The highly anticipated judicial commission of inquiry into state capture — headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — will kick off on Monday in Parktown, Johannesburg.

Former finance deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas and ANC MP Vytjie Mentor are among the first witnesses who have been called to testify at the inquiry.

The commission will investigate claims that the politically connected Gupta family offered Cabinet positions to Jonas and Mentor, and knew about key ministerial appointments before they were announced. Among other allegations, the commission will investigate whether former president Jacob Zuma and board members of state-owned enterprises illegally awarded tenders to benefit the Guptas.

READ MORE: ‘Guptas offered me Finance Minister position’ — Mcebisi Jonas

In 2016, Jonas alleged that in October 2015 the Guptas had offered him a promotion and a bribe of R600-million, two months before then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was sacked. Jonas said he declined both offers. Gupta brother Ajay denied — under oath — that he had offered Jonas the promotion and money. Ajay however, did not deny that a meeting with Jonas took place at his family’s Saxonwold compound, nor that there actually was an attempt to bribe Jonas. Ajay only said “it wasn’t me”. Jonas’s tenure at treasury ended in 2017 when was fired by Zuma.

Mentor alleges she was flown from Cape Town to the Gupta compound where she was offered the position of minister of public enterprises. In this position, Mentor would have overseen all state-owned entities where the Guptas have been accused of having looted from government. Mentor alleges she declined the offer.

Other witnesses set to testify during the inquiry include Willie Mathebula, a veteran treasury staffer, government communications deputy director general Phumla Williams and former Government Communication and Information System chief executive Themba Maseko. 

Earlier this year, Zuma was ordered by the Pretoria high court to establish the inquiry into state capture as per recommendations made by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her 2016 State of Capture report.

Zondo was selected to head the commission by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in January 2018.

Although Zuma is implicated in state capture allegations, in his announcement of the inquiry, he emphasised that the accusations were of “paramount importance” and that “the commission must seek to uncover not just the conduct of some, but of all those who may have rendered our state or parts thereof vulnerable to control by forces other than the public for which government is elected.”

READ MORE: The full terms of reference for the inquiry into state capture

In March, Zondo announced the members of the commission which comprises Dr Khotso De Wee, Vincent Maleka SC, Terence Nombembe, Leah Gcabashe SC, Paul Pretorius SC and Thandi Norman.

READ MORE: Zondo puts together his own justice league

De Wee was appointed as the secretary of the commission, Nombembe as head of investigations and Pretorius as the head of the legal team. Pretorius is joined by Gcabashe, Norman and Maleka in his team.

Zondo said: “The desired outcome is that at the end of this process, South Africans understand the depth of this state capture issue so that we as a country don’t end up in the same situation (as before).

“Those who committed criminal conduct in regards to state capture will also need to be dealt with by our criminal justice system. That is also the hope of the commission.”

In her report, Madonsela had recommended that the commission take six months to complete the inquiry. Zondo however, insisted that time frame is insufficient.

On July 19, he launched an urgent application requesting that the 180 days that the commission was initially granted, be extended to two years so its work could be completed. This was granted by the high court.

Whether the time for the commission to do its work is going to be extended will be confirmed on October 2 2018.

READ MORE: Zondo: State capture inquiry could be extended