Evidence that could have been used in a future judicial inquiry into high-level corruption in South Africa might have been destroyed, according to former public protector and ‘state capture’ investigator Thuli Madonsela.
“My concern as an investigator is two-fold, one is that these guys are not sitting, they are destroying evidence…I’m certain that computers have been thrown away, cell phones have been thrown away which we would have collected, and therefore the longer it takes to conduct an investigation of criminality – as corruption is a crime – the more difficult it is to find the information, as the trail gets cold every day,” Madonsela tells African Business.
Madonsela, who served as public protector until the end of her term last year, has led calls for an immediate judicial inquiry to follow up on evidence detailed in her 2016 ‘State of Capture’ report. The report linked President Jacob Zuma and his political allies and family members to the Guptas, a prominent Indian business family. While Zuma indicated on June 22nd that an inquiry would go ahead ‘as fast as possible’, a date has yet to be set and the terms of the inquiry remain disputed.
The report detailed a series of meetings between Zuma ally Desmond Van Rooyen and the Guptas, and suggested that the family may have had foreknowledge of ministerial appointments, including the sacking of respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. It also concluded that state power utility Eskom had favoured Tegeta, a company which counted the Guptas and President’s Zuma’s son Duduzane as shareholders, when awarding coal supply contracts.
The eventual release of the ‘State of Capture’ report last November – following delays prompted by the President’s legal action -sparked a political firestorm in South Africa. Opposition leaders and even members of the ruling ANC have backed Madonsela’s calls for a judicial inquiry. Madonsela insists that Zuma should have the right to approve, but not select, the inquiry judge, something which the president considers an infringement of his powers.
“I think the state capture allegations have damaged the credibility of President Zuma and the Gupta family and his son [Duduzane Zuma] who is in business with the Gupta family. And the businesses that are co-owned by the president’s son and the Gupta family have suffered some brand damage. The only way they could have been saved if these allegations are not true would have been an immediate judicial inquiry where the accusers openly present their case and the accused openly present their difference. And that can still be done,” she says.
Madonsela has long enjoyed a frosty relationship with Jacob Zuma. In 2014, she conducted an investigation into the President’s use of taxpayer funds to pay for upgrades to his home in Nkandla. After a prolonged legal battle, the Constituional Court upheld Madonsela’s recommendation that Zuma should pay back some of the funds. She remains scathing of his response to the state capture allegations, particularly his visit to a Gupta event in April.
“Normally a company president who has people that are investigated for stealing from his company would not be the guest of honour at their public event. So the way things have happened since then confirms my feeling that justice should not just be done but should be seen to be done.”
The full interview with Thuli Madonsela is available now in the July edition of African Business Magazine