DAYS OF ZONDO, PART SIX
Ramaphosa could have acted with much more urgency to prevent State Capture, commission finds
The Zondo Commission finds the President’s testimony was ‘somewhat circumspect’, that Jacob Zuma abused power and that Ramaphosa often let him do so.
The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture has found that influential figures like President Cyril Ramaphosa should have acted more urgently against State Capture rather than choosing to work “strategically” within the party.
“The crux of President Ramaphosa’s ‘balance of forces’ explanation is that any other approach would not have been allowed by the ruling party, and he and others were unwilling to damage the ANC by publicly going against it,” said Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in the final instalment of the State Capture Commission report — which came in two parts: Part V and Part VI — released on Wednesday.
Zondo also confirmed that various forces had captured the state at numerous locations. About Ramaphosa, Zondo said: “ ‘Speaking out’ or being more confrontational during his deputy presidency would not have entirely curtailed his ability to effect change.”
Ramaphosa testified before the commission in August 2021 and outlined five options he faced at the height of the period of State Capture under former president Jacob Zuma. He said the balance of forces in the ANC meant resistance inside the party was better than resigning to a marginal position outside the party.
“President Ramaphosa did not state outright who would have removed him from his position had he opted to be ‘more confrontational’, but only one person had the power to dismiss him: former president Jacob Zuma,” said Zondo.
He also found that Ramaphosa’s testimony had been “somewhat circumspect” and added: “This may mean that President Ramaphosa believed that the former President was complicit in the State Capture project and would abuse his power to further it. A further implication is that he could not count on the ruling party to defend him in such a scenario.
“The implications of President Ramaphosa’s remarks are profound. They imply that State Capture involved a political project and not isolated, opportunistic acts of corruption. They also imply that that project enjoyed powerful support in the state and the party. President Ramaphosa was forced to ‘resist’ within government, choosing his battles, and could not challenge State Capture outright.
“President Ramaphosa had to tread carefully because he was in the minority or did not have enough power to prevail. The natural conclusion is that, during this period, the most dominant political faction — the ANC under President Zuma — permitted, supported, and enabled corruption and State Capture.
“He did not dispute the contention that this proves that the ruling party and the Executive were firmly controlled by those complicit in State Capture,” Zondo found.
The Chief Justice accepted Ramaphosa’s testimony that he intervened when former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was fired in December 2015. He recounted that Ramaphosa said strategic action should not be construed as complicity. He did not appear to agree with the presidential assessment of how much power and influence Ramaphosa had under Zuma, arguing, for example, that Ramaphosa did not do enough when the banks came under ANC fire for closing the Guptas’ family and business accounts.
“The [ANC] Top Six, which directed the ANC to engage with the banks at the behest of [the Gupta company] Oakbay included President Zuma and Deputy President Ramaphosa [and] furthermore, the ANC in this case was acting knowingly in concert with Cabinet in this unlawful intervention into the affairs of the banks,” said Zondo.
He acknowledged Ramaphosa’s testimony that he considered former mining affairs minister Mosebenzi Zwane and other ministers, and possibly the then president, to have abused their power to benefit the Gupta family and to be complicit in State Capture.
“The evidence shows that under former President Zuma, decision-making processes at the highest level were abused to facilitate a certain agenda. The way Zuma ran the Cabinet under the previous administration therefore provides an important insight into how State Capture could have occurred.”
Zondo accepted and quoted the evidence of acting Treasury Director-General Ismail Momoniat, who submitted a detailed affidavit on Cabinet decision-making under conditions of State Capture.
Zondo also found that Ramaphosa had not been clear enough in his opposition to a nuclear deal when former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson tabled the R1.3-trillion plan as a “walk-in” agenda item on 9 December 2015. Ramaphosa did not comment on whether Zuma was personally driving the process forward with reckless urgency, Zondo found in his report.
Why did Ramaphosa reappoint David Mahlobo and Arthur Fraser?
Zondo also criticised Ramaphosa’s rapprochement with former intelligence minister David Mahlobo and former spy boss Arthur Fraser after he was elected President in 2018.
“Despite very serious findings made by the High-Level Review Panel [an intelligence inquiry chaired by National Security Adviser Sydney Mufamadi and appointed by Ramaphosa], not only of a general nature but against Mr Mahlobo in particular, he was appointed back into President Ramaphosa’s Cabinet,” said Zondo, recalling that the head of state had told the commission that he was waiting for its report to act.
“It is unclear why President Ramaphosa would await further investigation.”
The Chief Justice continued: “Very serious findings were made against Mr Fraser over his coordination of the PAN programme [an off-books intelligence programme that operated as a personal agency of Zuma and saw the massive enrichment of intelligence bosses] and later during his tenure as DG [director-general]. Yet in April 2018, he was redeployed by President Ramaphosa to be the Commissioner of Correctional Services. [Ramaphosa] confirmed that he knew of some of the allegations against Mr Fraser at the time, but would only say that he was awaiting the Commission’s report.
“I [Zondo] stated that the release of the Commission’s report is in no way a final endpoint, and there is a high risk that nothing will be done for a long time while legal processes are ongoing. Even if Mr Mahlobo and Mr Fraser have not been found guilty of criminal offences, the state of the SSA [State Security Agency] under their leadership — which President Ramaphosa freely acknowledges is both dire and dangerous — is surely a reflection on their competence and integrity,” says the final report.
What did Ramaphosa know, and when did he know it?
When he gave evidence, the President said he understood that he had to tell “What I knew, when I knew, what I did in response.”
Zondo replied: “The question of what he [Ramaphosa] knew is still somewhat opaque… His answers go some way towards answering those questions, but unfortunately leave some important gaps.”
The President had acknowledged and described his understanding of State Capture, but he could have done more.
“The question, what did he know? must be accompanied by another question: ought he to have known? The wealth of evidence before this Commission suggests that the answer is yes. There was surely enough credible information in the public domain, long before December 2015, to at least prompt him to inquire and perhaps act on a number of serious allegations. As the Deputy President, he surely had the responsibility to do so.”
Ramaphosa has said he will respond with an implementation plan to the commission’s recommendation by October. DM
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