South Africa


Time to tackle apartheid corruption, put an end to democracy-era graft

The interim board, chaired by the razor-sharp and fearless former Constitutional Court Judge Zak Yacoob, is flexing its muscles, backed by a mandate from the highest sporting office in the land. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

A new report on Thursday said corruption can only be combated if we delve into our dark, debased past. The report fell short on the details, but it might have found the right moment to challenge the neglected scourge of South African society.

Releasing the report from the People’s Tribunal on Economic Crime on Thursday, retired Justice Zak Yacoob emphasised how corruption follows a thread that must be cut before it entwines and repeats itself. Apartheid corruption went unpunished, and then we had the arms deal. There was little accountability for the arms deal, and then we had State Capture.

Those are the headlines, but corruption unchecked begets more corruption, on all levels.

Yacoob presented the final report on the People’s Tribunal on Economic Crimes in South Africa, a civil society-led initiative aiming to investigate what the state won’t take on. It heard testimony over five days in February 2018, narrowed down to three topics: apartheid corruption, the arms deal, and contemporary State Capture.

The report reads:

We stress that the events pertaining to State Capture are integrally related to the acquisition of arms by the South African democratic government during the 1990s and the early 2000s and the sanctions-busting shenanigans during apartheid. It would be a mistake to examine State Capture in isolation.”

Apartheid economic crimes, the arms deal and State Capture are all part of one system, never tackled or resolved (although the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture is trying), and until we understand and confront apartheid grand corruption – the root of the cause – we won’t be able to prevent mass looting in the democratic era.

The report from the People’s Tribunal is strongest on confronting those who supported apartheid-era sanctions-busting, facilitating the delivery of arms into South Africa after the United Nations outlawed supporting what was categorised as a crime against humanity.

Open Secrets, whose director is Hennie van Vuuren, the main author of Apartheid, Guns and Money, had a key role in establishing the tribunal and, following on from the organisation’s work, the report is most specific on apartheid sanctions busters.

It recommends the NPA set up a team to tackle apartheid crimes. Here, the report names and suggests “investigating the violations by KBL and the French government of United Nations sanctions, and the allegation that KBL, Kredietbank, Thales, Norinco and Ferrostaal aided and abetted the commission of the crime of apartheid, a crime against humanity.”

It says prosecutions should be initiated against the companies involved in supporting apartheid, evidence should be presented to the United Nations, which could set up an international tribunal, or Parliament could establish a specialised commission to investigate the crimes.

The report highlighted a key misconception about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC recommended those who didn’t qualify for amnesty should be investigated and prosecuted. Almost nothing was done.

Inexplicably, despite the fact that the final report of the TRC was made available to the appropriate law enforcement authorities, for the purpose of ensuring appropriate investigation and prosecutions, we know of only one case in which there has been a prosecution,” reads the tribunal report.

One of the problems with the tribunal’s report is that it sends such complaints back to the same authorities who have failed in the past. It reads:

There appears to be insufficient capacity, focus and expertise in the South African justice system to provide accountability for complicity in crimes against humanity and other human rights violations, particularly because of their international character and implications.”

The tribunal made recommendations on the arms deal and State Capture, but they also lack detail.

The report said corruption, for local beneficiaries and their international partners, was the only legitimate justification for the arms deal. It said the review of the compromised Seriti Commission should not prevent authorities from investigating and taking action against implicated parties.

Regarding State Capture related to the Gupta family, the panel essentially supported the Zondo Commission, currently hearing testimony from those who experienced and suffered under the nexus of corruption and abuse committed by the family and their allies in government.

It is neither necessary nor desirable for this team to reveal any of the evidence because this might work to the prejudice of the State case, the accused persons, or both,” said the brief, 20-page report on providing details about implicated parties regarding apartheid crime.

Khuraisha Patel, a researcher at Open Secrets, said the report should be read in conjunction with the evidence presented during the tribunal.

Those lengthy submissions come with many allegations, but the report failed to weigh them. Yacoob and his esteemed colleagues failed to provide an assessment of the submissions and decided not to name and detail valid allegations against the companies and people who have crippled society.

It’s all about the political moment,” said Patel, on the efforts to take the issues forward.

There has been a blatant lack of political will,” she said on the government’s failure to tackle issues like apartheid corruption. She suggested that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, considering he must soon appoint a new NPA head, could challenge the complacency.

The People’s Tribunal report provided little detail and pedestrian recommendations. But it might have come at the right time. Patel said the government has continuously failed to achieve justice for its citizens, relying on failed explanations for not holding corrupt companies to account, such as trying not to sacrifice foreign investment.

It’s really time that there’s congruency between the state and its citizens,” she said. DM


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