President Cyril Ramaphosa is unlikely to be the gripping witness Norma Mngoma was when he appears before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday, 28 April, and the following day.
After all, he did not make a habit of going to the alternative Cabinet meeting-place at the Gupta family’s Saxonwold mansion, and there are no reports of payola being made to him in cash and spirited into the boot of his car. Or even of him being gifted a Louis Vuitton man bag.
But his testimony is likely to be the most important in terms of answering questions of political culpability during the era of State Capture. It is unlikely that former president Jacob Zuma, who was head of state through the era, will appear before the State Capture Inquiry. So, the big questions will fall to Ramaphosa.
He will open with a statement on Wednesday, April 28, when he starts two days of testimony as ANC president and he is likely to treat it as a profound national moment of mea culpa for the damage that State Capture did to South Africa.
While the different factions of the ANC have lobbed missiles at the Zondo Commission, Ramaphosa has been steadfast in his support. He has set aside four full days to give testimony – a sign of political seriousness and support for the process.
His opening statement is likely to be more contrite than the testimony of ANC Chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who told the commission that the ANC had not been captured, although people in it may have been. National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise stepped further towards accepting some culpability when she apologised and said that Parliament could have done more than it did to stop the process from becoming ineluctable by acting earlier.
Ramaphosa is likely to face the questions that often surface in the public square: what did you do, what did you say, and why didn’t you do more?
Appointed as ANC deputy president in 2012 and South Africa’s president six years later, he was in office through the years when State Capture ran rampant through South Africa.
All the major damage was done from 2012, as the graphic shows. In that year, Dudu Myeni was appointed as SAA chairperson, starting the airline’s crash and burn. A year before, a teary Fikile Mbalula (the then sports minister) told the ANC National Executive Committee that the Gupta family had told him of the transport minister portfolio he would get before Zuma officially informed him – later, several deputy ministers reported similar occurrences.
In 2013, the Gupta family landed a plane of wedding guests at Waterkloof Air Force Base. Mantashe told the commission that this was the first time the ANC realised the Guptas’ growing influence over the government.
From then on, South Africa notched up highwater marks of State Capture.
These included the Prasa trains purchase, with millions of rands diverted to the ANC; the Transnet locomotives purchase, with billions extracted by the Gupta network; the appointment of Tom Moyane as SA Revenue Service commissioner and the evisceration of the revenue agency and revenue collection.
At Denel, under chairperson Dan Mantsha (later, one of Zuma’s lawyers), the defence company’s intellectual property was exported in a dodgy deal with VR Laser Asia, co-owned by Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa.
Former GCIS CEO Themba Maseko revealed in 2016 that he had severe pressure placed on him by Ajay Gupta to advertise in The New Age newspaper. Later, eight other ANC cadres gave evidence of this kind of pressure to Mantashe – seven were too scared to put it in writing. Bell Pottinger’s “White Monopoly Capital” campaign against the media, the banks and anybody who wouldn’t ring the Gupta bell started in 2016.
Through it all, Ramaphosa was in office.
The only known action he took was to lead the campaign against the appointment of Des van Rooyen as finance minister in December 2015 when Nhlanhla Nene was axed. Because of Ramaphosa’s intervention, Van Rooyen lasted only two days and became known as the “Weekend Special”.
Mantashe revealed under questioning by Alec Freund SC that two ministers had come forward to report corruption in their departments. He also confirmed that the ANC secretariat had received reports of the Gupta family’s growing influence. He had told ministers and senior civil servants not to comply with illegal instructions.
Ramaphosa could face questions about his knowledge of these reports and what action he took as media reports of State Capture grew in number and detail.
The commission’s brief is to ascertain if State Capture occurred and also to recommend steps to prevent it in future. The evidence leader could ask Ramaphosa about the role of cadre deployment (the ANC policy of choosing party-aligned cadres for deployment into all levers of the state) as one of the instruments used in State Capture. He was chair of the party’s deployment committee, which should have approved the boards of state-owned enterprises. The most expensive and egregious corruption was at Transnet, Eskom and Denel through board manipulation.
Also, as deputy president, Ramaphosa chaired the ANC’s political committee at Parliament. The commission has repeatedly returned to the theme of how parliamentary oversight failed to nip State Capture in the bud before it harmed South Africa so severely. The president is likely to face a grilling on this aspect of his underutilised power too.
For his part, Ramaphosa is likely to reveal that he was not kept in the loop about Zuma’s decisions, such as the nuclear project he tried to ram through, and about Zuma’s regular Cabinet reshuffles. Instead, as Norma Mngoma has revealed, a shadow state has operated where the Guptas were making key decisions. The president could argue that he was ignorant of its operations.
Ramaphosa will be keen to move the discussion to what can be done to prevent more State Capture. And this could see him turn to the gains of the era of state reform he has attempted since becoming president in 2018. DM