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15 Jul 2019 11:00
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Reuters)
Then president Jacob Zuma’s late night removal of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene on December 9 2015, was the genesis of the state capture project’s explosion into the public domain, culmintaing in his appearance before the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday.
It is a conspiracy against him, he told the commission as he got going with his testimony, which his legal counsel promised would “implicate people”.
“There has been a drive to remove me from the scene,” he told the Zondo commission.
“It arises because of my work in the ANC and because of who I am… it has come in different forms and that’s why there are people who say I have a way of trying to dodge things in one form or another.
“I am going to connect the dots over a decade that talks to why I am here,” Zuma said on Monday morning.
Until Nene’s removal — which tanked the rand and resulted in a R100-billion loss in the 48 hours after the move at Africa’s largest asset manager, the Public Investment Corporation — the insidious grip of the controversial Gupta family on Zuma’s presidency remained an open secret among the country’s political elite, but the true extent of it was masked from scrutiny by the political protection he enjoyed within the governing party.
Nene’s axing triggered a string of events, which culminated in Zuma’s removal and the departure of the Gupta family from South Africa — leaving a wake of destruction of institutions, looted state owned companies, political polarisation and a shattered economy in their wake.
It also triggered a fierce fightback involving a smear campaign by the Gupta’s, the Zuma faction in the ANC and those implicated in state capture.
Four days after Nene’s removal, Zuma was forced, by intervention from senior ANC leaders, to reverse his decision to appoint little known member of Parliament, Des van Rooyen, as the country’s new finance head, a move which would have ostensibly cast a key Gupta appointee into the role of directing government finances. Months before Nene’s removal, a fake intelligence report called “Project Spider Web” began circulating among senior politicians and public servants to discredit the national treasury, who were at the heart of blocking key deals which would benefit the Guptas and their allies, including the nuclear deal.
Then Cooperative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan was prevailed upon to return to the helm of the Treasury, replacing Van Rooyen who became known as the “weekend special” finance minister, owing to his brief tenure in the post.
Months later, the Financial Times reported that former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas had confirmed to him that the Guptas’ had offered him the post of finance minister weeks before Nene was fired.
In March 2016, Jonas made a public statement, laying bare the details of that meeting in which he was offered R600-million to take up the post at the family’s behest. A string of senior politicians and government officials — including Barbara Hogan, Themba Maseko and Vytjie Mentor — then revealed their run-ins with the family.
Following the revelations, three complaints were made to the Public Protector on state capture — the first complainant was a group of Catholic priests, on behalf of the Dominican Order, brought on March 18 2016. The second complaint was laid by Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane on the same day and the third complaint was from a member of the public whose name was withheld.
At the heart of the complaints was the alleged improper and unethical conduct by the president and other state functionaries relating to alleged improper relationships and involvement of the “Gupta family in the removal and appointment of ministers and directors of State Owned Entities (SOEs) resulting in improper and possibly corrupt award of state contracts and benefits to the Gupta family’s businesses”.
It also related to “alleged improper and unethical conduct relating to the appointment of Cabinet Ministers, Directors and award of state contracts and other benefits to the Gupta linked companies.”
As Public Protector Thuli Madonsela went about her investigation, an ANC probe into state capture agreed upon by its national executive committee, fell flat.
A separate investigation was conducted by the South African Council of Churches and the Public Affairs Research Institute.
On October 14 2016, Madonsela released her final report, which included damning findings about the capture of key state institutions such as Eskom, in which she recommended that a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture be appointed. Zuma was directed to appoint the commission, headed by a judge appointed by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
The move was resisted by Zuma, who in 2017 brought an application to review and set aside Madonsela’s report.
The high court dismissed his review application in December 2017, three days before the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec kicked off. The court described his review application as “ill-advised” and “reckless” at the time. He was ordered to pay the cost of the application in his personal capacity.
Following the victory of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president at Nasrec, Zuma eventually appointed the commission of inquiry in January 2018.
The Zondo commission has heard damning evidence for close to a year, culminating in the point reached on Monday, where Zuma finally broke his silence on state capture.
Natasha Marrian is Mail & Guardian's politics editor. Read more from Natasha Marrian
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