Defend Truth

Opinionista

Workers must unite to support the Zondo Commission report, even in the face of a backlash from the corrupt

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Zwelinzima Vavi is the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu)

We expect a huge backlash from the thieves and the beneficiaries of the ill-gotten wealth. They will be briefing the best legal brains here and abroad to find fault with the recommendations of the commission or the contents of the report. They may even exploit the very serious levels of hunger in this country to drive instability as a negotiating rod so that they may escape accountability.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) is delighted that finally the Zondo Commission’s State Capture Report has been presented to the President and subsequently to the public. We acknowledge that the report will be delivered in three parts. We are reading and interacting with the voluminous report so that we can not only draw lessons but ensure that those implicated are held accountable not only in the courts but also in the streets. 

Saftu calls for immediate action in the form of prosecutions for all those the commission has recommended should face the music in our courts. We also call for further investigation of others the commission has recommended, as well as many who the commission’s work did not cover, dating to apartheid days when state corruption and corporate collusion were commonplace.

We expect a huge backlash from the thieves and the beneficiaries of the ill-gotten wealth. They will be briefing the best legal brains here and abroad to find fault with the recommendations of the commission or the contents of the report. They may even exploit the very serious levels of hunger in this country to drive instability as a negotiating rod so that they may escape accountability. We want to especially caution about the threat of a Radical Economic Transformation faction backlash, since the failure of the ANC to inspire voters to turn out in the November municipal elections appears to have strengthened the hand of elements within the ANC who typically talk radical, but walk corrupt.

It is in this regard that we are calling on workers – employed and not employed – to close ranks to defend the report and its findings and recommendations. These workers are the first victims of corruption.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of jobs were destroyed as the elites were collapsing Eskom, Transnet, Prasa, Denel, SAA, PetroSA and virtually every state-owned enterprise. One of the classic scams that we hope the Zondo Commission makes a ruling on is the tendency of corrupt elites to outsource, privatise and casualise what were once well-working components within state-owned enterprises – for which the obvious remedy is insourcing. After all, in procurement contracts, Treasury’s own lead official (Kenneth Brown) revealed that 35% to 40% of the typical state procurement contract was overpriced.

Many workers lost their jobs in the process and were left destitute. Other workers such those employed by Denel have not been receiving their salaries. Even though Numsa succeeded in getting a court order to force the company to pay due wages, that victory became hollow since the company has gone bankrupt. Workers have had to go through another festive season hungry, unemployed or without wages – unable to support their families – while the fat cats were enjoying their holidays in Dubai and other destinations that are welcoming to organised financial crime. 

Saftu will mobilise all the victims of corruption to occupy the streets and demand justice. All those who are found guilty in court must serve highly punitive sentences so that the message is communicated that crime does not pay. In Cuba and China, for example, there is the death sentence for corruption, hence the commitment in those societies to fighting corruption.

Saftu is extremely concerned that the consequences of State Capture include the hollowing out of capacity in our democratic state. Today there is hardly any institution of state that has capacity to fully implement the recommendations of the State Capture Commission, much less the mandates of the Freedom Charter, the Reconstruction and Development Programme and other progressive policies. The criminal justice system is on its knees. According to the police, there is only a 48% chance of identifying those committing crime. The conviction rate is down to 15% but for the victims of rape this is worse at a mere 11%.

From this perspective, we worry that many who are in the State Capture Commission’s firing line have little to worry about. We say so because of the following examples:

  1. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that there should be prosecution of apartheid crimes, particularly of those who did not approach the commission to be pardoned. Nothing has happened;  
  2. More than 30 financial institutions were caught red-handed manipulating the South African currency. They paid heavy fines in the US but here in South Africa, where the victims of their illegal actions reside, nothing ever happened to hold them accountable;
  3. Likewise, the firm Hitachi paid a $19-million fine after US prosecution (under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) for having bribed the ANC through Chancellor House to get Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile boiler contracts worth tens of billions of rands. But our own prosecutors have been sleeping, even though the R400-billion in Eskom debt is largely for these two corruption-riddled power plants;
  4. The corporate sector is involved in massive illicit cash outflows and mispricing that is costing the economy up to R400-billion annually, as even Treasury’s Financial Intelligence Centre acknowledges. Nothing has been done to tighten exchange controls or to prosecute the criminals, financiers and lawyers whose gaming of scarce foreign exchange reserves makes the Zupta era’s stealing look like a Sunday school picnic; and
  5. The consultancy PwC has repeatedly rated South African corporates as the most corrupt (currently tied for the second most corrupt) business elite in the world. Yet there are hardly any executives successfully prosecuted in this country, and even the blatant thieves at Steinhoff and Tongaat Hulett have escaped criminal accountability. 

We know there is a serious lack of political will to prosecute, and inadequate prosecutorial capacity within the state when it comes to white-collar crime. This was destroyed as a deliberate result of State Capture, but has obviously not been properly built back. 

Part of the problem the country must be aware of, is that there are hardly any elites who did not enable the State Capture project within the current government and indeed within the alliance as a whole. Almost every member of the current ANC National Executive Committee directly participated to enable State Capture – and/or played it safe to keep their job or to advance their political ambitions – at the expense of the truth and of our children’s future. Clearly we cannot rely on this class of leadership to ensure unbiased implementation of the State Capture Commission’s recommendations. 

Saftu is proud that in 2017 we laid charges against Trillian and Eskom executives when it was not fashionable to do so. We joined others and at least insofar as the Guptas were compelled to flee, we succeeded in saving the country. But that commercial crimes prosecutors have not done anything about this particular case is exactly the point we are making – that those who are implicated have little to be concerned about. 

For these reasons, the programmes of working-class action that will begin to unfold in 2022, including in protests during next month’s speeches by the President and especially the finance minister, will continue to advance our demand that the state become accountable to our entire society, not to the crony capitalists that Judge Zondo has begun to implicate. DM

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