Ramaphosa’s testimony at Zondo Commission has laid bare the reality of State Capture in South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa appears before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)

Where was the resistance Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of? The reality is that he chose a political strategy over principle. This is not to deny that he means well and is committed to cleaning up the state.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Making his closing comments on the last day of his testimony, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the commission headed by acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that State Capture happened because of “certain people” who deliberately sought to hijack the country’s economy.

As he finished two days of evidence on the afternoon of 12 August, Ramaphosa also sought to quantify the overall loss suffered by SA during the ugly years of the Gupta capture of our state.

While investigator Paul Holden has put the figure of how much the Gupta family stole from our country at more than R50-billion, Ramaphosa said the true extent of the loss will never be known.

Not only did they steal our money, but – with the help of Jacob Zuma and the pliant stooges he had as ministers – our state-owned enterprises were also run into the ground while law-enforcement agencies were turned into a Zuma/Gupta defence force.

Many people, including Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership, turned a blind eye. Those who dared to speak out were hounded out of their jobs and many others were forced into silence.

Far from what the President said, State Capture did not happen because of certain people who deliberately ran our country down. But it happened because of many others, like Ramaphosa, who chose to do nothing.

Ramaphosa said he did not speak out against the glaring abuses of power by Zuma because he feared being fired. He told the commission that he chose not to be confrontational and not to resign so that he could “resist abuses and bring about change” from inside.

“This meant ‘staying in the arena’, with the challenges, limitations and frustrations inherent in doing so, but it was the course of action that had the greatest likelihood of bringing State Capture to an end, restoring the institutions of state and defending our democracy,” he said.

This is cold comfort for the employees at the state-owned arms manufacturer, Denel, who have gone for months without a salary. The same can be said for the employees at SAA who cannot feed their families. These entities, including Eskom and Transnet, were the Guptas’ stamping grounds and personal kitties where they amassed ridiculous wealth – enough for them to live comfortably in Dubai.

Where was this resistance Ramaphosa speaks of? The reality is that he chose a political strategy over principle. This is not to deny that he means well and is committed to cleaning up the state. However, his evidence at the commission has laid bare the reality that we are faced with. Even if Ramaphosa had taken a principled stance against Zuma and resigned his position as deputy president, no one else in the ANC would have followed him. This is because ANC leaders only care about their self-interest as opposed to the expectations of servant leadership.

To be frank, whatever renewal that Ramaphosa speaks of, it is not possible with the current ANC leadership.

Or rather, he cannot do this while in the ANC. This effectively means he will not succeed unless the ANC purges itself of the bad elements. While Ramaphosa still seeks to balance factional contradictions within the governing party and accommodate his political opponents, as South Africans we will continue to be an afterthought in his considerations.

That explains why Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been nominated by the ANC to become the Speaker of the National Assembly. This is also why Ramaphosa, while knowing full well the extent of the rot and looting of funds at the State Security Agency (SSA) while David Mahlobo was the minister, still appointed him as a deputy minister in 2019. Former State Security acting director-general Loyiso Jafta told the commission earlier this year that SSA lost about R9-billion’s worth of assets at the height of State Capture.

Ramaphosa admitted to the commission that Zuma had become too powerful in the party and no one challenged him. The silence was not part of any “strategic” move, as the President later told the commission, but rather politics that trumped principle. Effectively there were and still are not enough people in the ANC to stand up against corruption and wrongdoing. That’s why we had State Capture. DM168

Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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All Comments 17

  • Lots of questions unasked…like how much of the state capture proceeds went to fund the ANC?

    We can all guess the answer to that one.

  • Spot on, Sibusiso. Politics trumped principle and neither the President nor the ANC have any inclination to entertain a different view for the immediate future either.
    Something must give. Hopefully I won’t be around be then.

  • The testimony at the State Capture Enquiry this week and other recent events make it clear that state capture is certainly not “over” it is still continuing, and in fact likely enabled the unrest that recently happened in Juky that further so seriously damaged the county. We are still having new instances of large scale corruption. There is not a serious effort to get rid of the state capture and corruption, all of the same corrupt and incompetent Ministers keep getting recycled. The suggestions that there were efforts to “work from within” were only minimal at best and the part is culpable for allowing the continuing increase in the grip of state capture, when it was very apparent what was happening. The testimony this week was filled with vague platitudes and statements about change that are not borne out at all by what is actually happening. It is quite clear that the ANC is only seeking to change as little as possible to remain in power. Otherwise, they want to continue with cadre deployment and business as usual as far as possible. The interests of the party will always prevail over the interests of the country.

    • Your point about a minimal effort being made to change the ANC from within is spot on. The fact is that the ANC would collapse without funding from corruption and the big wigs certainly would not be able to live the lifestyle that they think that they are entitled to without it.

  • Thank you Sibusiso.

    For me, your ending says it all: “Effectively there were and still are not enough people in the ANC to stand up against corruption and wrongdoing. That’s why we had State Capture.” And there are two basics reasons: self-interest and “smallanyana skeletons”.

  • Just another failed African government only interested in how much wealth they can amass in the shortest time. No wonder we look at Singapore with envy.
    Must be a DNA problem.

  • If our shrewd businessman and political mastermind President Ramaposeur had half the nous he claims he has, then why didn’t he covertly garner proof and evidence whilst riding the former president’s gilded coattails for however many years it was that he was Zuma’s lackey. The blarney and flannel we witnessed at the Zondo Commission were exactly that; he’s complicit to the hilt and trying but failing miserably in this game of political Whac-A-Mole.

  • Nothing was laid bare. He dodged question after question and paid lip service to how things are going to be changed. More talk, talk, talk and very little action.

    We can guess that over R1 trillion was looted at an SOE level alone over the Zuma wasted years.
    We can also guess that this did not start with Zuma, hence his evasive “participation” at the commission.
    If you add the free for all at a Provincial and Municipal levels (which is still ongoing BTW and actually getting worse by the day) we are looking at figures that rival the SA GDP.

    Unless there are decisive action taken, nothing will change.
    The country is bleeding and ANC cadres are buying 6 figure Rand cars and Armani suits.

  • The second last sentence about not enough people in the ANC who were or are ready to stand against corruption and wrongdoing, summarises the situation . Is the alternative an EFF or RET faction government ? If not … then the conclusion is a rather smug one and of little merit or consequence. At least the Branco analysis does not indulge in this smugness !

  • The findings of the Zondo report is the deliverable for Cyril before he can really go after the RET / Gupta crowd. He didn’t name anyone otherwise he would have been hung drawn and quartered at the next NEC.

  • If Ramaphosa stood up to Zuma during Zuma’s ‘reign’ he would’ve been sent packing. Ramaphosa chose to stay and pick away at the system until he was placed at the helm, he has the stage and he has unpacked the truth. Had he walked away in protest, SA would probably be in a worse position than where we are now. So, although it appears to be a political play in a narrow sense. The broader strategy, that is, how does he and his collaborators take control of the system (albeit still under construction) appears to be working so far. It’s the final outcome of it all that remains to be seen….

    Also, let’s not forget he’d have had an easier time stepping out of politics and running with the basic economic tenets of self interest and profit maximisation. Had he focused on his business interests he would’ve been a wealthier (in monetary terms) man for it. So, for me, there appears to be an element of altruism in his motives too – a greater SA for all and all that. His moves, I’m sure, haven’t exactly garnered favour with the many who were profiteering across the political spectrum on the back of this debacle.

    I do feel a bit of damned if he did, damned if he didn’t given the discourse.

    • My word it is so nice to see this comment.

      It so eminently apparent to me that discretion is the better part of valour as far CR is concerned. He would never have been president of this country had he gone head to head with Zuma.

      And Zuma would not now be in prison.

  • Thank you Sibusiso.
    CR may be the only show in town – if so, and based on his performance to date, he is not a very good bet for our future.

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