The state capture spectacle is back

The commission of inquiry into state capture is set to reconvene this week after proceedings came to an abrupt end last December. And, with an election on the horizon, the commission is bound to be pulled into the political spectacle that lies ahead.

Last Friday, the commission announced that hearings will resume this week. According to a press statement, an application “of a procedural nature” will be heard on Tuesday. The application will deal with evidence set to be heard by the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, in the coming days.

The names of the witnesses expected to testify this week is yet to be released.

The final weeks of proceedings last year saw the ANC broach allegations that senior members of the governing party were complicit in a plot to capture the state under former president Jacob Zuma.

Zuma and 12 current and former Cabinet members have reportedly been sent 3.3 notices by the commission’s legal team which are official documents served on those implicated by witnesses.

In November, former ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe led a delegation — including ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte and the party’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana — at the commission, where he outlined the party’s plans to tell its side of the state capture story in 2019.

READ MORE: Zondo commission: ‘What did the ANC do?’

With the national and provincial elections set for May, it is expected the party will continue its campaign to clean its hands of Zuma-era corruption.

Mantashe told the commission that he will address former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan’s testimony in which she claimed he unlawfully sought to use his political influence to interfere in the management of Transnet by insisting on the appointment of Siyabonga Gama as its chief executive in 2009.

Hogan told the commission she had experienced “enormous pressure” to approve the appointment Gama, despite the fact that he was undergoing a disciplinary process for misconduct in his capacity as the entity’s freight rail chief executive. This pressure allegedly came from senior ANC members, including Mantashe and the party’s allies.

According to a statement released during Mantashe’s first testimony, Duarte will also give evidence before the commission “to rebut the allegation that she was part of state capture and rebut any other allegation made against her”.The ANC’s final submission will be presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who “will respond to a broad set of issues relating to the ANC which arose in evidence before the commission and will explain what action the ANC took and why it omitted to intervene in circumstances when it should or could have done so”.

Mantashe refuted allegations that the ANC attempted to intervene in the closure of Gupta-linked bank accounts in 2016. It emerged during during testimony presented by the big four banks in September that representatives from Absa, FNB, Nedbank and Standard Bank were “summoned” to Luthuli House to explain their decision to sever ties with the controversial Gupta family.

Preoccupied with understanding the extent of the ANC’s intervention in fending off state capture, Zondo pushed Mantashe to testify to the governing party’s attitude towards the alleged influence of the Gupta family over its leadership.

Former member of Zuma’s Cabinet Ngoako Ramatlhodi was more forthcoming in this regard, telling the commission that the ANC national executive committee (NEC) was in shambles because of the Gupta’s hold over its members.

READ MORE: Ramatlhodi: ANC NEC gripped by a ‘season of madness’ during Zuma-era

Ramatlhodi told the commission that one faction had the upper-hand because of Zuma’s power within the NEC. The “imbalance” of power enabled the former president to “disregard the flow of debate … and arrive at his own conclusion”.This “season of madness” as Ramatlhodi described it, was in full swing after the ANC elective conference at Mangaung in 2012, where Zuma was re-elected for a second term as the party’s president.

Ramatlhodi said it took the 2017 ANC national elective conference, where Ramaphosa was elected the party’s president, to change the balance of power.“A faction grows like a tree, it has roots. So you have to uproot it,” he said, adding that the factionalism within the NEC had been fuelled by a system of patronage which started at the top. “We have removed the top,” Ramatlhodi said.

But Ramaphosa’s “clean-up crew” has not been immune to claims that they too had a part to play in state capture, with key members of his Cabinet being forced to own up to their ties to the Guptas in front of the commission.

Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene became the most high-profile casualty of the commission, after he admitted in October that he had met with the Guptas four times between 2010 and 2013. He also said that there had been one other meeting in 2014, where Gupta patriarch, Ajay, attempted to extract information from him. Nene had previously denied meeting with the Guptas.

READ MORE: The Saxonwold tea parties: A timeline of Nene’s meetings with the Guptas

Nene resigned shortly after his testimony.

In the wake of his testimony, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan fielded allegations that he too had lied about meeting with the Guptas.

Gordhan told the commission in November that he did not disclose in the 2016 parliamentary response that he had attended a meeting with Indian businessman Anil Ambani in 2010. The meeting may or may not have been attended by a Gupta brother.

Gordhan reiterated that he would not lie about the meeting. “If I wanted to lie I could have left this meeting out,” he said, referring to his statement to the commission.

READ MORE: I would not lie about meeting Guptas — Gordhan

“I have been quite emphatic that I am not for sale,” Gordhan said. There were repeated efforts to get Gordhan to meet with the Guptas, all of which were turned down, he added.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) staged a three-day picket outside the commission as Gordhan gave his testimony.

EFF leader Julius Malema addressed a large crowd of EFF supporters on the second day. He lambasted Gordhan and Ramaphosa and accused the media and the commission of forwarding the ANC’s agenda.

Malema also emphasised that his party had been central to bringing about the commission, adding that the party is preparing its testimony regarding allegations of corruption against Gordhan.

Ramaphosa’s own scandals might also catch up with him as he prepares to face the commission.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has vowed to approach the commission to request a probe into the role of Jeffrey Afriat as a non-executive director at a Gupta-linked asset management firm Trillian Capital and administrator of Ramaphosa’s ANC presidency campaign fund.

READ MORE: Maimane to approach Zondo commission over Trillian exec’s role in CR17 donation

In November, DA leader Mmusi Maimane claimed that Ramaphosa CR17’s campaign was linked to Afriat. “The reality is that Mr Afriat was a director of Trillian Capital. Afriat is also cited twice by name in Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report,” Maimane said in a statement at the time. “Afriat resigned as Trillian director shortly before the Budlender Inquiry into Trillian was launched. These are not wild allegations, they are just facts, and they are worthy of further exploration by an independent inquiry.”

Ramaphosa’s campaign fund was administered by law firm Edelstein, which has disputed Maimane’s claims regarding Afriat, saying he was never involved in the activities of Trillian and that he was a non-executive director at Trillian between March and November 2016.Since Maimane made the claim of a link between Afriat and the CR17 campaign, Afriat has announced he plans to institute legal proceedings against the DA leader and his party.

The party has been critical of Ramaphosa’s seeming unwillingness to own up to his alleged role in the state capture project before the commission.

Maimane said in October “there is no conceivable way Mr Ramaphosa had no knowledge of the wholesale corrupt capture of the ANC and of National Government and its entities”. Maimane was referring to Ramaphosa’s tenure as deputy president of the ANC from 2012 and deputy president of the country from 2014.

To meaningfully dent Ramaphosa’s image as untarnished by the legacy of state capture before the commission would be a coup for the opposition as it goes against an ANC determined to distance itself from the Zuma years.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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