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Zuma's testimony crucial to inquiry

Former president Jacob Zuma.
Former president Jacob Zuma.

It's been almost a year since the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture in SA began to hear testimony.

Also known as the Zondo Commission, it is headed by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who has listened to 130 days of live testimony from more than 80 people.

It is probing allegations that the government was captured by private business interests for their own benefit.

During it all, echoes of former president Jacob Zuma's alleged involvement have become deafening.

Through various testimony, Zuma has been directly implicated by current and former senior government officials and ministers.

They have alleged, among other things, that Zuma leaned on them to help the Guptas - Zuma's friends who are accused of having captured the state - and to fast-track a nuclear deal with Russia that would have bankrupted the nation.

The governance failures that have resulted in the looting of parastatals have also been blamed squarely on state capture.

Zuma's turn to give evidence has arrived.

Not only does he deny that state capture exists - he's called it a fake political tool - he's also cast himself as a hapless victim.

He said: "There are people who did things to others in one form or the other, and you can call it in any other name, not this big name 'state capture'."

The allegations against him are that he orchestrated a network of corruption that hijacked SA's developmental project. The importance of Zuma testifying before the commission should not be underestimated. It will set a precedent that will either show that those who abuse power will be held to account or that the cycle of impunity will continue, reinforcing the unjust systems that enabled state capture.

Zuma set his presidency on the ticket of state-sponsored development.

This entailed using state-owned enterprise procurement, tighter state control and black economic empowerment to realise what has been termed radical economic transformation.

But it was precisely within this agenda, and the governance arrangements that supported it, that the seeds for state capture were sown.

Tighter state control meant that the flows of information were controlled by only a few, while state-owned enterprises used the biggest share of procurement rands.

There was already billions moving through these state-owned enterprises and radical economic transformation was the perfect ideology to bring it all together.

But black business hardly benefited at all from the profits of state capture.

In addition, state capture has hollowed out the very institutions that would have been able to realise radical economic transformation through the constitutional state.

Our unpublished research shows that, to date, there have been 28 public state capture investigations, inquiries and commissions.

There are also 118 outstanding cases of corruption involving government officials and politicians in the in-tray of the newly appointed head of the National Prosecuting Authority, advocate Shamila Batohi.

The true cost of the damage caused by state capture, including the destruction of institutions and lives, is unquantifiable.

South Africans may well be seduced by the prospect of Zuma taking the stand at the Zondo Commission, but he was not alone in driving the state capture project.

And the network of actors and influencers is extensive and still very much active.

This much has been laid bare in testimony before the commission.

  • The conversation.com, with contributions from Nina Callaghan and Robyn Foley, senior researchers at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University

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