Where are all the alleged perpetrators?
That’s the question many South Africans are asking after more than 100 days of public hearings staged by a judicial panel that’s probing graft during Jacob Zuma’s presidency. While scores of witnesses have recounted how bribes were paid to senior officials and billions of rands looted from state coffers, hardly any of those implicated in wrongdoing have testified.
The Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, can’t prosecute anyone but can subpoena witnesses who don’t come forward willingly. It’s held back on using that power so far — it has two years to complete its work and could wait until more allegations are aired before it demands responses. Criminal charges would have to be pursued by the police and National Prosecuting Authority.
Here’s what the experts say:
Thuli Madonsela, ex-graft ombudsman who ordered probe in 2016:
- “Judge Zondo is an experienced and highly qualified jurist who knows the enormity of the task facing his commission. It seems that his methodology is to get everything out into the open now and at the end it will all tie in together and make sense.”
- “The biggest challenge a commission like this faces is that of issue creep, where one issue leads to another and another, so that it never seems to end. That is why when I recommended such an inquiry into state capture — I wanted it to cut through the main issues as quickly as possible, so that the evidence does not become cold and that as much of the money is recovered as is possible.”
Bart Henderson, independent forensic auditor:
- “The commission is in an information and evidence-gathering phase that I don’t think should be disrupted. Once this phase is concluded, the commission can then begin to interrogate individuals and evidence and give implicated parties the opportunity to make representation.”
- “The sheer scale of capture of key institutions, organisations and state-owned entities seems to leave the impression the Zondo Commission cannot possibly conclude its business in the time frame expected, especially considering the legion of implicated parties yet to testify in defense of the allegations.”
Ebrahim Fakir, Auwal socio-economic research institute director:
- “I am of the view that the resources are misplaced in the commission. The money and resources should have been dedicated to investigative and prosecutorial agencies. We are taking a step back through the state capture commission.”
- “Those with money, who find themselves implicated are going to make it more difficult for this commission to get to the bottom of this inquiry.”
- “We will see people asking for weeks to allow a process of discovery of information, or research.”
- “We should feel for the deputy chief justice because this is an impossible task and he’s been as thorough as can be.”
Francis Antonie, Helen Suzman Foundation executive director:
- “I don’t think anyone can say the commission is not doing a good job. It’s just that there has been so much that is being revealed in terms of new networks of corruption that we didn’t know of and anticipate. This necessitates that the commission interrogates the information and as it were, leave no stone unturned.”
- “We must see prosecutions. It’s time that the public sees wrongdoing that is out in the open prosecuted. It is important because we do run the risk and danger of commission fatigue and potentially muted findings should hearings go on for years without any action.”