/ 14 January 2022

A plea from Zondo commission whistleblowers: ‘We want prosecutions’

State Capture: Guptas Want To Testify From Dubai
‘My comrades called me naive’: Themba Maseko refused to participate in the Gupta family’s attempts to capture the state’s advertising budget. Photo: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images/Netwerk24

Whistleblowers are one of the most effective weapons against corruption. But for decades, they have been targeted, harassed and even murdered. 

Many of the recommendations Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo made in his first report on state capture were focused on protecting whistleblowers and creating a system that will ensure they are protected. Several whistleblowers played a vital role before the commission and its work. 

The former cabinet spokesperson Themba Maseko was one of them. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian he said it was critical for prosecutions to follow the report because it would be impossible to implement the legislative reforms recommended by Zondo while some of those implicated remained in high office.

“The real contentment on my part will come if I see the recommendations of the report implemented and the perpetrators of state capture being held accountable for assisting a criminal syndicate that led to the destruction of the state’s capacity. It is a job that needs to be done, lest we become a true banana republic.”

Though Zondo raised concerns about the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in his report, Maseko remains optimistic because he trusts the commitment of the national director of public prosecutions, Shamila Batohi. But he is worried that she was not given the resources to carry out the brief.

“The biggest concern I have is her capacity to actually implement the recommendations to prosecute because, remember, the reason why the Zondo commission is able to produce such a comprehensive report, and to produce two more reports, is largely because resources were made available to them by the state — up to R1-billion over a period of three years.” 

The first of Zondo’s three-part report delivers extensive recommendations as to how legislation governing public expenditure should be amended to prevent a repeat of the industrial-scale looting of revenue that marked the Zuma administration. But Maseko said he was putting prosecutions foremost because it was essential for rebuilding public trust in the state in the aftermath of the scandal

“State capture has led to the demise of the capacity of the state to deliver services and as a result a loss of confidence in the state. Prosecutions in my view basically sends the most important message to the public that things are going to change,” said Maseko.

“With the current leadership you have, people who have not been held accountable for what has happened in the state, [and] chances are that we are not going to see implementation of many of the recommendations. Secondly, it is then building the capacity of the state to make all those changes because if we expect many of the people implicated in state capture to drive the process of making the changes that Zondo is talking about. It is going to be a long wait.”

He added that the NPA’s task was to prosecute all those implicated, especially those “who are still in government today” but also those in the private sector, among them Bosasa and Bain, who benefited from state capture.

Maseko memorably swore at Ajay Gupta late in 2010 when the family at the centre of the scandal demanded a meeting on a Saturday morning, following an earlier demand, backed by then-president Jacob Zuma, for the entire R600‑million state advertising budget for their media venture.

Mere months later, he found himself out of work. Zondo’s report salutes Maseko as one of the rare state employees who stood up to state capture. 

“Many of my comrades did call me naive because I expected that, with the factionalism that was unfolding in the party, an internal ANC process could yield results of dealing with state capture”.

He recalled  then-ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe telling him that party members had approached him about the Gupta brothers’ interference in the state and Maseko offered to testify to party structures.

Instead he found himself alone and could only assume that those in high office in government and its parastatals feared that if they spoke out they would “lose those privileges”. 

“There was also a sense, and I think this is still the case today, that you don’t turn on each other and this is well articulated by the earth-shattering statement by Bathabile Dlamini, who said we all have skele­tons in the cupboard and that was the crux of the matter — that is why many of them did not speak out.”

Beyond that still lay fear of getting “on the wrong side of the president”.

Maseko said with hindsight he would make the same choice, as hard as it was, but he hoped Zondo’s calls for greater protection for whistleblowers would be heeded. 

The plea was put more emotively by former Bain & Co staffer and consultant Athol Williams, who said he and many others continued to live in fear and without income.

“[President Cyril] Ramaphosa and government and ministers have left me exposed, and they know I’m under threat and they keep leaving me exposed. Why would they keep leaving me exposed?” Williams asked in an interview from abroad, having left South Africa late last year. 

“I don’t think we are going to have any prosecutions because all the whistleblowers will be dead or not interested in blowing the whistle.”

Williams was among three key witnesses who testified to the commission about the nefarious consequences of Tom Moyane’s reign as the South African Revenue Service’s (Sars) commissioner, which saw 500 employees leave in a year, 55 of whom were executive managers.

One of them was Johann van Loggerenberg, the former executive who oversaw the projects and evidence management and technical support division within the revenue service, and who left four months after Moyane was appointed.

Van Loggerenberg said the impact of the wrecking of Sars was felt to this day, not only by those who were forced out, but by the public.

“Remember, we’re now all paying 15 percent VAT.”

He added that there were signs that Sars was rebuilding its backbone and said he hoped what the Zondo commission had confirmed — after several court rulings buried the narrative of the so-called rogue unit — would lend impetus to this process.

“Not that they needed the Zondo commission’s report to do anything … But maybe this is a good platform to launch from and then take what started further. It should not be the end, it should be the beginning.” 

Van Loggerenberg added that more evidence may emerge if the report were taken on review.

“I would love that to happen.”