Last week marked the end of the scheduled hearings of the Judicial Investigation Commission on the Capture of the State, more than 1,000 days after the first testimony of witnesses was heard.
While the commission’s chairman, Supreme Court Vice President Raymond Zondo, has said that a few more witnesses may need to testify, the commission’s work is now one step closer to completion.
This is an important milestone that brings us closer and closer to the reckoning of one of the most ruinous episodes in the history of our democracy.
Even before Judge Zondo presents his findings and recommendations to the president, we can all agree that the commission’s work has been invaluable.
Over the course of three years, we have heard testimonies detailing alleged acts of large-scale corruption. We have heard of actions that resulted in the theft of billions of rands of public money. We have heard how many public institutions and state enterprises were deliberately weakened.
This exposition of the nature, scope and depth of the state capture did not take place behind closed doors, but was broadcast throughout the country. By allowing all South Africans to follow the commission’s procedures, you have helped inspire public confidence in our democracy in the way it promotes openness and transparency.
The country owes a debt of gratitude to all those who participated in the commission’s work; of those who researched, researched and collected a large amount of information; to the many witnesses who testified and provided evidence; to the journalists who diligently reported on the process; to the attorneys who helped present the evidence.
We also owe a debt of gratitude to the many people, some of whom are unknown, whose actions led to the establishment of the commission in the first place. These are the people who unearthed these alleged criminal acts, who resisted, spoke out and campaigned, both public and behind the scenes, to end state capture. It is thanks to them that we now speak of state capture in the past tense.
The state capture did not end by itself. It was brought to an end thanks to the concerted actions of South Africans from all walks of life, working in various areas to restore the values of our constitutional democracy. And it is up to all of us to ensure that these practices are never allowed to happen again.
Over the past three years, we have taken several important steps to address corruption and state capture. We have been painstakingly rebuilding bodies such as the National Tax Authority (NPA), the South African Police Service (SAPS), the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and others. We have created new structures, such as the Directorate of Investigation at the NPA to prosecute high-level corruption and the SIU Special Court to recover stolen public funds. We have enhanced our crime-fighting capabilities by establishing the Fusion Center, which brings together various law enforcement agencies to share information and coordinate crime investigation and prosecution.
We have changed leadership in several strategic state-owned companies and have begun the process of restoring their financial and operational health. We are working towards a new SOE model that promotes greater transparency, accountability and sustainability.
Much of this work is ongoing. There are areas where progress has been much slower than we would have expected, and they are now receiving more attention.
The commission’s findings and recommendations will undoubtedly strengthen these efforts. We hope that the commission will identify some of the systemic weaknesses that allowed the state capture to take place. This will allow us to take further corrective action.
While we can say that the era of state capture is over, we have not defeated corruption. Fraud and corruption remain pervasive and deeply embedded in both the public and private sectors.
Although it may not be on the scale of state capture, such criminal activities cost our country dearly, weaken our institutions, and deprive South Africans of many basic necessities.
Corruption is deeply immoral at best, but it takes on further depravity in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Here we talk about the despicable acts of corruption of the past year in the acquisition of goods and services necessary for our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
We act quickly to stop such corruption, identify those responsible, and take action against them. This is proof of our commitment to eradicate corruption.
We enforced Treasury regulations, established the merger center, and gave the Special Investigation Unit a broad mandate to investigate all Covid-related corruption allegations. For the first time in the country, we also published online the details of all Covid procurement contracts in all public entities.
The damage caused to our country by state capture is profound. Its effects will be felt for many years. But, working together, we have started to fix things. We have started rebuilding and restoring.
We can hope that the results of the Zondo Commission will greatly strengthen these efforts. They will give us the opportunity to make a decisive and lasting break with the era of state capture.
Much work remains to be done and many challenges remain to be addressed. But we are on our way to building a society free from the evils of state capture and corruption.