- Blog Post
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In January 2018, Ramaphosa appointed a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into “state capture,” the label commonly used in South Africa for government corruption. The head is Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. He is assisted by five other commissioners. The “Zondo Commission” holds hearings that are open to the public and broadcast live.
Of late, South Africans have been transfixed by the testimony to the Zondo Commission of Angelo Agrizzi detailing the extravagant bribes paid by companies to the highest level of the governing African National Congress (ANC), mostly in return for highly lucrative contracts. Agrizzi was the chief operating officer of Bosasa, a logistics company purchased by a white South African, Gavin Watson, who was celebrated for playing rugby with black Africans during apartheid in the 1970s. He used his “liberation” credentials to develop contacts with the ANC leadership. The granularity of Agrizzi’s testimony about the size and scope of the bribes Bosasa allegedly paid is titillating. He said bribes ranged from cases of expensive scotch to luxury automobiles to large sums of cash. While Zuma was named in Agrizzi's testimony, President Ramaphosa is also being investigated in connection with the corruption associated with Bosaso.
Agrizzi claims that he received multiple offers of large sums of money if he would keep quiet. He did not. Subsequent to his cooperation with investigators, an audio recording surfaced in which he used insulting and racists languages when referring to South Africa's black majority. For some, this might invalidate Agrizzi's testimony. However, Raymond Zondo, while deploring the racist remarks, said, “What I heard there is extremely offensive but that does not mean I will not examine your evidence to figure out where you’re speaking the truth and where not.”
Ramaphosa and Zuma are still locked in a struggle for dominance in the ANC, with Ramaphosa slowly consolidating his position. Nevertheless, Zuma retains substantial ANC support, especially in the rural areas. Testimony from the Zondo Commission is unlikely to significantly erode this base of support.
As of now, South Africa's elections are scheduled for May. The chief opposition to the ANC comes from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The DA is the official opposition and the second largest party in parliament. A DA victory will probably require a coalition with minor parties and even part of the ANC, should it split. The EFF is radical in its economic policy and pushes, among other things, for the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation. It is noisy, but it is unclear whether its support will reach double-digits. The DA is trying to exploit politically the testimony emerging from the Zondo commission, but it is still widely perceived as the “white” party despite its black leader, Mmusi Maimaine. It has its own internal conflicts and a history of ineptness in appealing to an overwhelmingly black electorate.
At the January 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa was blunt about corruption in South Africa: “We’ve gone through a challenging number of years, nine years to be exact, where we seemed to lose our way, where we deviated from the path that you traditionally would have expected us to traverse.” He was clearly referring to the Jacob Zuma presidency. However, the Agrizzi's testimony alleges that corruption preceded Zuma and implies that it continues under Ramaphosa.
It seems unlikely that the results of the Zondo Commission will influence significantly the May elections, but even so, the public aspect of the hearings is highly positive in terms of establishing a political culture of accountability and transparency, however disconcerting it might be for the ANC leadership at the moment.