'There must be jail time,' says Cyril Ramaphosa of Zondo commission

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo chairs the Commission of inquiry into state capture.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo chairs the Commission of inquiry into state capture.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

President Cyril Ramaphosa faced some tough questions during a public engagement in Sandton on Thursday, using the opportunity to hammer down on his anti-corruption stance while at the same time taking a small dig at his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

Addressing the audience - which the ANC described as "our white counterparts" in a press release that was later retracted - Ramaphosa spoke mostly about state capture and the dire situation at Eskom.

He was asked questions about the outcomes of the various commissions of inquiry running concurrently, race relations, and support for small-scale farming and micro-enterprises.

On corruption, Ramaphosa asked for patience as the various commissions continue with their work.

"The commissions had to be set up because we are dealing here with the state capture debacle, which has been an overarching one. It has gripped not only the nation but a whole number of institutions in our country … we had to have a process through which we can deal with this. We are not a dictatorship. We have to work within the parameters of our constitution," he said.

"We cannot just go barging in, we need to find out what the truth is. These commissions are paying great dividends. The Zondo commission is enabling us as a nation, however painful it is, to see what has really gone wrong in our country. Never again shall South Africa go through this.

"The findings will be issued once the report comes out. In the course of this whole process there are certain things that are coming out that are actionable. Those who have done things wrongly must be prosecuted. There must be jail time. Accountability is at a great premium, we must be accountable for what we’ve done. It must be without any fear, without any bias, without any prejudice," Ramaphosa added.

Ramaphosa was asked one question which left him startled. A member of the audience asked him to describe one instance where his judgment was tested as a leader, further asking him to describe how he dealt with the situation.

The president used the opportunity to take a dig at his predecessor, who in 2017 used a controversial intelligence report to axe then-finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his team.

"It was public record that he [Gordhan] was being removed on the basis of an intelligence report which in my view did not add up to much… A report that I believed was false was being used to remove [Gordhan]. The decision I then had to make was whether I'd keep quiet about something that I truly believed was incorrect. Then I broke ranks, and I spoke out. Doing so could have meant that I could have been fired myself," Ramaphosa said.

He also described Eskom as "our current headache".

"Eskom is our current headache. Each time I wake up in the morning I get an SMS from [Gordhan] to tell me what the grid is looking like... We are going to be focusing on not having more than stage 1 load-shedding and making sure in the winter months we will have sufficient energy. Eskom holds our livelihoods in its hands," he said.

"We need to restructure Eskom and I think we are on to a good thing. Eskom is the only company in the country that has worked up a debt of R430bn. We are trying to work on a number of ways to work on this challenge… I would like to be in a situation where stage 4 load-shedding never happens again to South Africans."

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