President Cyril Ramaphosa said ‘every person responsible’ must be held to account, in a state of the nation address made with the election in mind. (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
With an election looming close, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday wasted no time in vowing to root out grand corruption in a State of the Nation address that risks being his last if the ANC loses its majority.
Ramaphosa termed state capture possibly the worst scourge post-democratic South Africa has faced and acknowledged that “much more” needed to be done to fight it, although this had been his administration’s top priority.
“We will not stop until every person responsible for corruption is held to account. We will not stop until all stolen money has been recovered,” he said. “We will not stop until corruption is history.”
It was a plain attempt to revive the promise of renewal that earned him broad support when he took office in 2018, but the government failed to fulfil it.
There has, to date, not been a single conviction in a major state capture case and the Zondo commission of inquiry found senior figures in his government and party should face criminal investigation for taking bribes from Bosasa.
Ramaphosa turned to the subject early in his speech, after listing global events that have affected South Africa, saying: “There have also been times when events at home have shaken the foundations of our constitutional democracy. Perhaps the greatest damage was caused during the era of state capture.
“For a decade, individuals at the highest levels of the state conspired with private individuals to take over and repurpose state-owned companies, law enforcement agencies and other public institutions.”
The real tragedy of that scandal was that it swallowed money meant to provide services for citizens.
“Billions of rands that were meant to meet the needs of ordinary South Africans were
stolen. Confidence in our country was badly eroded. Public institutions were severely
“The effects of state capture continue to be felt across society, from the shortage of
freight locomotives to crumbling public services, from the poor performance of our
power stations to failed development projects.”
Stopping it had been “one of the overriding challenges” his government had to deal with, he continued.
“Our first priority was to put a decisive stop to state capture, to dismantle the criminal
networks within the state and to ensure that perpetrators faced justice. We had to do that so that we could restore our institutions and rebuild our economy.”
He said care had been taken to strengthen the state’s investigative capacity, notably by establishing the Investigating Directorate within the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). He reiterated that the directorate would be made a permanent entity, after it was initially formed for a limited period to take further the recommendations of the Zondo commission.
“Great progress has been made in bringing those responsible for state capture to justice. More than 200 accused persons are being prosecuted. More are under investigation.”
The prosecuting authority has been severely criticised in recent months after suffering humiliating court setbacks in two important state capture cases.
In April last year, close associates of the Gupta brothers were granted section 174 discharges in the Nulane Investments case, and in December, the money-laundering case against former Eskom chief executive Matshela Koko was struck off the roll for unreasonable delays.
Lawyers with close knowledge of state capture cases say these are collapsing because the NPA is under pressure to bring high-profile suspects to trial, and rushes to court before investigations are complete.