Jacob Zuma has been accused of systematic and ‘unlawful’ efforts to give business allies control of billions of dollars in state assets by the judge investigating wrongdoing during years in power. former president in South Africa.
Raymond Zondo, who was appointed in 2018 to lead an investigation into allegations of systematic corruption under the Zuma regime, delivered his latest report to current president Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday.
The 1,000-page document accuses brotherly businessmen Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta of being the beneficiaries of Zuma’s efforts to fire competent officials, interfere in management decisions, appoint docile ministers and influence the allocation contracts of colossal value.
Zondo said the Guptas, who came to South Africa from India in the 1990s and built a sprawling business empire, identified Zuma as someone “whose character was such that [the Guptas] could use it against the people of South Africa, their own country and their own government to advance their own business interests”.
Zuma came to power in 2009. A populist who was expected to reconnect the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to increasingly disillusioned voters, he was expelled nine years later amid growing public anger over to economic failures and a series of corruption scandals.
He is on medical parole while serving a 15-month prison sentence following his conviction last year for contempt of court for defying a Constitutional Court order to testify at Zondo’s inquest.
Zuma was jailed for contempt in July last year, a move that sparked days of riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces in which shops, warehouses and factories were looted and many set on fire. More than 300 people have died in the unrest, the worst in South Africa since the end of the repressive and racist apartheid regime in 1994. ANC officials loyal to Ramaphosa have described the violence as ‘political sabotage’ and a potential coup attempt. .
After three months behind bars, the 79-year-old politician was released on medical parole for an undisclosed health issue. A later court judgment ruled that the medical parole was invalid, but his lawyers are appealing that judgment.
Zuma and the Gupta brothers, who left South Africa after Zuma’s fall from power and are believed to be in Dubai, deny wrongdoing. They have previously said the allegations against them were politically motivated.
The commission interviewed hundreds of witnesses, viewed tens of thousands of records and obtained phone records, among other evidence.
The latest report also revealed that ministers and other officials were aware of alleged efforts to steal huge sums from Eskom, the electricity utility. Other scandals involve the national airline, which no longer flies, and a range of other public companies.
Accusations of wrongdoing linked to Eskom are particularly sensitive in South Africa, and will pose new problems for the ANC party, which has been in power for 28 years.
Chronic lack of maintenance, under-investment and management failures have prevented Eskom from providing sufficient electricity to South Africa, leading to frequent nationwide power outages which have hampered the economic growth and hampered recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the report, Zondo asked why the ANC government had not acted to prevent the alleged corruption.
“Did they know everything but didn’t have the guts to stop President Zuma and his friends, the Guptas, for what they were doing?” Were they looking the other way? writes the judge. “The ANC and the ANC government should be ashamed that this happened under their watch.”
Ramaphosa had been vice president since 2014, but the report will hurt his enemies and rivals within the ANC more than it will hurt his own reputation. Analysts say the former union leader and business magnate has a good chance of winning a second term at the polls in 2024.
A separate Zuma corruption trial was postponed again on Monday pending the outcome of the former leader’s appeal to have the prosecutor removed from his case.
The delay is the latest in a long line, as it has been nearly 17 years since Zuma was first accused of corruption, fraud and money laundering related to the controversial 1999 arms deal in South Africa.
He is charged alongside French arms maker Thales, which is accused of paying bribes to Zuma through his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of corruption in 2005.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority has accused Zuma of delaying tactics to prevent the trial from starting.
While Zuma has publicly stated that he wants to spend his day in court, he has launched numerous lawsuits over the years that have delayed the start of the trial.