South Africa

MAVERICK INTERVIEW

Look back in astonishment: Mcebisi Jonas on the big takeouts from Zondo Commission, and Ramaphosa’s stealth moves against State Capture

Mcebisi Jonas. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk 24 / Deaan Vivier)

After three years and volumes of startling evidence of gargantuan corruption, one of the original State Capture whistle-blowers, former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas, looks back at the Zondo Commission.

In an interview with Daily Maverick, former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas revealed that President Cyril Ramaphosa, while Jacob Zuma’s deputy, had, in fact, directly attempted to mitigate some of the damage caused by decisions made by Zuma and the party.

While many have criticised Ramaphosa’s testimony to the Zondo Commission, as it wrapped up in August, as tepid and more political performance than solid explanation, Jonas said there were areas where Ramaphosa, as deputy president, did push back but that were not disclosed to the commission.

“When you listened to what the president said, there is an assumption created that quite frankly he did nothing, that he did nothing to intervene,” said Jonas, “when in fact the truth of the matter is there were many occasions when he did.”

Jonas revealed that it was Ramaphosa, as deputy president of the ANC and head of the deployment committee, who had led the charge against the appointment by then-president Jacob Zuma of Des van Rooyen as finance minister in December 2015 after firing Nhlanhla Nene.

As one of the early whistle-blowers – it was the Financial Times of London that broke the story in March 2016 that the Gupta family had directly approached Jonas to replace Nene –  Jonas found himself in the eye of the hurricane.

Four days after appointing Van Rooyen, Zuma uncharacteristically backtracked and reappointed Pravin Gordhan, who had been finance minister from 2009 to 2014.

It was a turning point in the “silent coup”, as Jonas has described it, by the Zuma/Gupta nexus to capture all institutions of the state.

Jonas set out how Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile and himself had separately met with Ramaphosa early one morning after the announcement of Van Rooyen’s appointment, as both men had considered resigning from the Treasury.

“He was very firm, saying, ‘Don’t resign, give me until the weekend and if by Monday I have failed to reverse this you can resign and I might even do so myself,’” recalled Jonas.

On Sunday Ramaphosa called Jonas to inform him that Gordhan had been appointed: “Listen, it has been reversed. Pravin has been appointed.” 

It was also Ramaphosa, he said, who had pushed back when there was discussion within the party to put pressure on the Treasury to intervene in the decision by South African banks to close Gupta-related accounts.

“There he stood up against the tide and said South Africa had a Constitution, it had laws and that the minister of finance should not intervene.” 

With regard to the R1-trillion Russian nuclear deal, Jonas said there was an understanding and discussion generally that it would be a terrible deal for the government and the country and it was Ramaphosa’s instruction to walk it along as long as possible.

“He said that by the time we have to make a decision Zuma will be gone. He told us to find everything in the book to delay,” Jonas said.

Then there was the controversial establishment of the Border Management Agency (BMA) which would have hoovered R300-billion out of the SA Revenue Service (SARS) and placed it under the auspices of Home Affairs.

Border-line Insane – the “silent coup” that could change the country forever

The BMA would have removed the functions of customs and excise from SARS and in so doing a significant portion of South Africa’s revenue.

Jonas revealed how this move was resisted and that Rampahosa had tried to intervene, having seen the red flags on the horizon. In that instance he failed. And while the act was passed setting up the agency, nothing has been implemented.

With regard to the Zondo Commission itself, Jonas said that unlike most commissions, which often ended up as political exercises, the fact that evidence given will be used to prosecute wrongdoers “was a turning point”.

“But the commission also helped in many other ways, most crucially bringing a body of evidence and detail that showed that State Capture is a reality in all its manifestation,” he said.

Fears that the commission, like elsewhere in the world, would be used to delay prosecutions were allayed when approval was made for some of the evidence led to be used by law enforcement authorities.

“That broke the trend,” said Jonas.

He added, however, that this was “a double-edged sword” as the prosecution of Bosasa’s Angelo Agrizzi after his testimony to the commission might have frightened others from coming forward.

Another major benefit, if it can be described as such, was that the commission led to a clearer understanding of State Capture and corruption on the one hand, and the suppression of the Constitution and democracy on the other.

“We would never have understood the connection between the two and of protecting the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Jonas.

What the Zondo Commission also exposed was how the ANC, with its Marxist tradition, viewed the state as an instrument of the party.

“For those who win elections it is an instrument to advance their policies and people, but in that notion of the state being an instrument lies the conflation between the state and the party and this undermines the citizenry.”

The commission had exposed, he said, that the “state was always in service of the party”.

When political parties “degenerate ethically and politically” this found expression in the state, “because in your view you don’t make the distinction”.

The role of citizenry, it was clear from the commission, was “not understood and enhanced as central”. 

Changing the electoral system in South Africa would not change the fact that “we still have political parties that are fundamentally and politically flawed”.

The commission, he said, also revealed the direct link between corruption, State Capture and existing structural factors in the country’s economy where those with political power have no economic power.

“The wealth creation process is still via the route of using rents as a basis for creating power. In a context like this, institutions and the state will always be vulnerable.”

Wealth should be created by an economy that was driven through innovation and growth, and that was not dependent on rent-seeking.

What South Africa needs, he added, was a momentum set by civil society and active citizenry that would provide pointers for setting a new agenda for the country.

“Hopefully, the political parties will catch up.” DM

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All Comments 64

  • This is like telling people you are poorer now that the ANC is in power but at least you are free. We did a little to protect your money but Zuma and his band of ANC thieves with the GUPTAS stole the money meant to empower you while we watched. Ad deputy president I could do nothing because I had ambitions to become president and If I protected the people, my chance were gone. That is what I hear.
    What about Derek and Pravin and Cheryl and Themba and yourself who spoke up. CR could have easily joined the chorus, but now he was to save the party at the expense of the people. He had to fulfil his life ambitions to become president at the price of the people and the country. Right up to today comrade deployment, BBBEE and the ANC is preserve to enrich a few at the price of the people. How does a union boss become a billionaire – the workers pay.

      • Pray tell…who would you choose to be our current President? The way I see it, CR is the best of a bad bunch! I would far rather have a Capitalist businessman than a Socialist thief running this country. Wouldn’t you?
        Unless we have a viable alternative, taxpayers must suck it up and make the best of it…or leave.

        • Jane, follow this up by reading Gareth van Onselen’s article in BD and you’ll get the picture loud and clear. I quite understand what you’re saying but I’m personally tired of hearing that CR is our last hope because he’s doing absolute jack for the country. The in-fighting in the ANC has nothing to do with us and he wasn’t made president of the country to sort those barbarians out. It’s his job to give us hope but instead he’s causing more despair through his lack of guts to do the proper thing.

          • I agree with you Charles. I lost all faith & hope in Cyril following the absurd & scandalous redeployment of Mapisa-Nqakula to speaker of parliament.

            Among many recent events, this has further highlighted that Cyril hasn’t got the ability or power to do the right thing as & when required. I believe that he’s merely a sock puppet & rubber stamp for the criminal cabal that masquerades as our govt.

          • I submit that the only constructive options at this point are:
            1. provide and drive a workable alternative; or
            2. accept that you’re screwed; or
            3. leave South Africa

            …regardless which one chooses, bemoaning reality again and again adds absolutely zero value

        • I’m with you Jane. People love to moan but are completely unable to offer a realistic alternative. Because there simply isn’t one in the time frames we need. This misnomer of PERFECT OR NOTHING is as stupid as it is unrealistic.

          • You are right when you say “in the time frames we need.” So it is time to get going NOW on changing the ANC government to something a lot better. Support the DA. Otherwise YOU are part of the ANC “long game”!

          • Doiks – Glynn, CR does not currently equal ANC, and if you have read my comments at all you will see I do support DA. (however, I’m not myopic about it. I will support whatever party I believe best for our country at a given moment in time. ….even your dreaded ANC if they sort themselves out -which doesn’t appear likely)

          • Hi Richard – If you vote for CR there is no guarantee that he will be available, you might get some totally unwanted person. Vote for CR equals a vote for the ANC. Ps – Glyn has one “n”! But no matter, I have been called names by experts!

          • I know all that Glyn with one N.

            I vote DA currently. I am backing CR in his efforts to reform the ANC as from what I can see he is genuinely trying. And – as you correctly agree above – there is simply no alternative in the timeframe required.

          • Sorry Richard, I prefer not to get involved in increasing the likelihood of self-fulfilling prophecies.

            So, I will back the only hope we have right now, the DA; and let you get on with spreading despair to those who enjoy misery.

          • Richard – I do believe that I live in a multi-coloured world. I have been around it a number of time, 63 countries in total. I worked with Russians for over 15 years, also Philipinos and various others. I believe I have a grip on world governments. Not one Russian wanted a socialist government again. ANC is SOCIALIST. I know that do not want them a day to many.

          • Glyn – I’ll say it one more time for luck but try another language as I’m not having much luck getting through to you in English:

            Я голосую за DA.

          • Good one that!! DA! As apposed to Niet! Ya ne gaverou port ruski herashor!

        • 1/ CR is NOT a Capitalist.
          2/ CR is NOT a Businessman. He never earned a single cent from his own real deals. He pure BEE made. The workers paid.
          3/ He is NOT the best of the bunch!

          • moan moan moan – how does that help Glynn? Pointing out problems is easy and useless.

          • Emotive but useless – please elaborate by offering your workable alternative.

          • Oh dear, here we go again.

            Okay Richard, I’ll spell it out for you, but you’re not going to like it:

            The pre-1994 voting populace believed, against all odds and against all that history has taught us, that South Africa would be different from every other post-colonial African state. We weren’t alone in that belief. The world wholeheartedly agreed and cheered us on.

            Twenty seven years later I think it is safe to say that that belief was unfounded and wrong. We have ended up pretty much exactly where the conservative verkramptes of the day had told us we would end up. Isn’t that ironic? It was Jaap Marais et al who were the true visionaries, who told us where we would be 20 and 30 years down the line. And here we are.
            And now, are we going to make the same mistake again?

            Looking at history we see that post-colonial, liberated countries in Africa have to reach rock bottom before they turn around. And subsequent to rock bottom there may be several false starts before an upward trajectory is attained. And subsequent to that it is a long and hard struggle with much suffering, hardship, loss of life, and every other possible worst case scenario to deal with along the way, including, very possibly, civil war.

            CR’s pathetic attempt at restructuring and reversal of the path to rock bottom is just delaying this inevitable process.

            Nothing indicates to me that that scenario will not ultimately play out. And I will be here for it to play out. Will you?

            Ramaphosa is no saviour.

          • @hendrik – doom and gloom, moan, cross, unfair, terrible blah blah

            Whether you are right or wrong is irrelevant and is helpful only to other saddies, in that misery loves company.

          • @hendrik – I should also say that I submit that if you truly haven’t seen a single improvement since CR came into power then you are either uninformed or you emotionally refuse to.

          • What utter rubbish.

            I concede that I am disappointed – aren’t we all? – but I do not bemoan the situation at all, I do not think it is unfair, and I am not at all miserable about it. I hope you can quote one solitary comment of mine to indicate otherwise, otherwise you are simply a liar.

            I accept the situation that we find ourselves in in South Africa and I choose survive it, if I can, and work through it.

            Here’s the thing: if the majority of the voters in South Africa vote for the path that I have described (whether they are aware of the fact that that is what they are voting for is immaterial), then who am I to stand in their way?

            Who are you to stand in their way, for that matter?

            That’s democracy, isn’t it?

            Accept where you are, Richard. You’re in Africa.

            And please stop equating criticism of Ramaphosa with moaning. Whether you’re right or wrong is also irrelevant. And it is also not helpful to anyone.

          • “I should also say that I submit that if you truly haven’t seen a single improvement since CR came into power then you are either uninformed or you emotionally refuse to.”

            Yes, I agree, if I’d said that then I would probably be what you said.

            But I didn’t say that.

          • Jaap Marais is known to have quoted, when asked about the success of democracy being implemented by revolutionary organizations like the ANC in Africa he said “Kyk Noord”…. as at the time every country north of South Africa was, and some cases are still, failed states…. much like we are becoming today…. so yes maybe they had the vision we so badly lack today in trying to save which might seem to be the inevitable if the ANC stays in power.

          • Sorry Hendrik, I prefer not to get involved in increasing the likelihood of self-fulfilling prophecies.

            So, I will back the only hope we have right now; and let you get on with spreading despair to those who enjoy misery.

          • @Robert, I really do hope the ANC splits, it would be an excellent thing for this country. But what we wish for, and what we have time for are 2 different things.

            This country needs to change direction right now if there is to be any hope at all. And I maintain that CR is the ONLY person capable of doing that. And he appears to me to be trying, which is why I give him support.

          • Where you see despair, others might see opportunity. Assuming that one is prepared for what is coming, of course, instead of self-delusion and denial of reality.

            Or maybe your definition of despair is just very different from mine. Who knows? It’s not like you are suggesting anything concrete on how we should approach and prepare for the future, except blind faith in Ramaphosa’s long game and hoping for the best.

            If I receive any indications whatsoever to sway me from what I believe lies ahead, then I will gratefully accept it and change my stance accordingly.

            Nevertheless, I hope you saviour comes through for you.

          • maybe, at some point our politics will even get out of kindergarten – to a heavenly place where we won’t be wasting newspaper space debating about the top policeman and the intention behind “moer hulle” …ah, sorry dreaming there for a moment.

          • And there it is … back to high school mentality you slide once more.

          • all or nothing again Glynn – I am more and more coming to understand that you live in a dichromatic world. You may want to read up on the grey scale.

        • The argument is not who should be president. The point is that he is president because he did not speak up when he should have. He is president because he was I lent and had money. Perhaps we would be in a better place if he had spoken up sooner and then earned his place as an honourable president. The country burned while he as silent the he used money to him there. How does a union boss become a billionaire – the people’s sweat

          • He wouldn’t then be president. It would still be Zuma. My word is this concept really so tricky to grasp?

    • As much as it pains to think this, the people speaking out appeared to be a minority and it’s highly unlikely that they had sufficient power to change the status quo within an organisation that believes in the concept of ‘self correction’ and ‘putting the party before the state’…imagine if CR had spoken up more publicly and vociferously and the status quo didn’t change…outcome?…unthinkable.

      While CR undoubtedly had political aspirations (no surprise as he had been tapped before), with hindsight the ‘trojan’ tactic to gain power to effect change from within seemed a more feasible approach as opposed to other means, or even trying the well trodden new party route trying to effect change from without…(how has that worked out for others who have gone before?…)

      Reading the tea leaves…Mr Jonas who spoke up is telling us (in CR’s defence) that more happened behind the scenes than was revealed in the commission. Why would he support/defend the actions of someone he didn’t believe in and trust?

      Let’s consider pragmatically…if not CR, who, how and with what result?

        • Often folks tend to use ‘Queensbury rules’ or ‘Westminster-style’ norms…however in Africa often a different or more measured approach suits the situation better…
          he understands this landscape better than most and needs the country’s support & trust to fix what has been broken for more than a decade…there are no quick fixes…but he’s been doing the right sorts of things…(if one pays attention…)

          If I recall correctly in one of his first speeches he addressed Traditional Leader to broach the thorny land issues, appointed a world-class head of NPA who is making traction, giving effect to evidence uncovered by Zondo to be used by law enforcement…

          …while inside the tent with a hand on the tiller…

          If not CR, who would have this level of leadership and dare I say even statesmanship to turn things around? Until someone else proves to be more capable, it’s my view that he’s the best we have right now between an unmitigated disaster and a reasonable shot at fixing (some) things while the ruling party remains in power…

  • Where are the moral patriots who would stand up to protect the social contract between the population and the evil idiocracy? Fiduciary duties are a myth for our government.

  • In a nutshell, the Zondo Commission has highlighted the ANC’s economic policy, one which is premised on the government stealing from the citizenry. It has further impoverished mainly poor Black people for the benefit of the party, its cadres & their families.
    Viva ANC- heroes of the People!

    • After Zondo, the taps are closing. cANCer is struggling to pay salaries because the steady stream of deployed cadre tender kickbacks are being throttled. Have a triple!

      • Yep, saw that. They haven’t paid salaries for 3 consecutive months. A combination of the taps closing because of Zondo & the fact that there’s probably not much money left to steal, it’s gone…..

        • watch the new “green paper” – …just take 12% more – reminds me of Dwight Shrute from The Office (American) when he’s explaining how he can get 5 steaks off his cow if he cuts them from the right places, still keeping the animal alive.

          Moooooooooooo

        • Hiram, you’ve reminded me of what the MD of an upmarket furniture shop when they went out of business a few years ago. He said that their customer base had shrunk because they weren’t able to steal as much as previously. Maybe they just hadn’t been paid.

  • “What South Africa needs, was a momentum set by civil society and active citizenry that would provide pointers for setting a new agenda for the country.” So, Mr Jonas, stand up and start putting your words into action. The people desperately need new leadership.

  • Well I for one am of the opinion that many commenters knowingly delude themselves as to what any individual could have achieved under Zuma without rendering him/herself completely ineffective for the country.

    It could be so so much worse. The very fact that CR is in the presidency and able to effect change is for me vindication of his strategy. Seeing the criminal rabble paralysed in court cases is no small achievement, and it provides a small amount of wiggle room to assemble a ground base for positive change.

    From what I can see the SA tanker is turning. It is slow, but it is turning. And I will continue to wholeheartedly support the President as long as I continue to see what I consider a more positive trajectory for this country.

    • Must say – I am also pleased that cr is there and not jz any longer. But just imagine what could have been had the anc any inclination of morality or ethics in their midst.

      • If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.

        We are where we are and we have what we have – the best option we have right now is to keep the spark burning, however small, and hopefully help turn it into the fire from which the SA phoenix can rise.

    • While you are right, I think it is very very important we keep on remembering that it is the ANC that brought us to this place since 94. It is their failures, corruption and cadre deployment that stopped this countries healing process from the damage done by apartheid, and it was done just for money.
      Could it have been worse absolutely, but does that excuse the destruction of the economy by the ANC for greed only?
      Is it really ok for our president to lie during arguably one of the most important commissions in South African recent history just to protect his buddies? Is it acceptable that we still havn’t seen any serious accountability on anything done by the ANC? Is it OK that the corruption is still going in full force even during the worst pandemic in history?
      At what point is cowing to the corrupt and criminals no longer acceptable?
      Yes lets give credit were it is due, but not at the cost of the truth.

      • I would hope it reasonably obvious I have factored many many aspects in before making my comment above.

        I will just say that at a broad level my preference is 50% of something to 100% of nothing.

      • SA really should give serious consideration to having an apolitical President of the country with clearly prescribed duties, mainly but not exclusively, ceremonial with the leader of the majority political party in Parliament as Prime Minister.

  • “The commission had exposed, he said, that the “state was always in service of the party”.” – and nothing has changed, I am sorry to say. cr and the anc still believe that SA belongs to the party and the feeding trough belongs to cadres deployed to rule the people. Just look at the make-up of the cabinet. Thieves and/or compromised cadres one and all.

  • The Zondo commission highlighted corruption and fraud. Who has been arrested or charged? Corruption continues. A case in point – – The SA/Zimbabwe border is closed. Or is it? My Zimbabwe gardener went through the border at Musina. He was “charged” R 500 by South African officials to stamp his passport. On coming back, he was again charged R 500 to come back to South Africa. He had had both his vaccinations. I doubt if the fiscus see this money!!!!

  • The final word, Mcebisi Jonas – “Hopefully, the political parties will catch up.” So, it is time to vote the opposition in. The tiny parties are only good for the loooong game, multiple elections. The DA is the only party that can get things moving in the short time frame, these coming elections, Municipal and National.

    • Glyn with one n – i would put a lot of money on betting that most people here will vote DA unless something changes dramatically. There comes a time to stop selling …typically when it’s already sold.

  • According to this article, most of Ramaphosa’s “interventions” were along the lines of finance-praiseworthy might this have been, they did nothing to attempt to stop the disgusting full throttle looting in which some of his comrades in the ANC were participating, and of which , despite his protestations to the contrary, he must have been aware since it had been in the public domain for some time.