Jacob Zuma has been accused of systematic and “unlawful” efforts to give business allies control of billions of dollars worth of state assets, by the judge charged with investigating wrongdoing during the former president’s years in power in South Africa.
Raymond Zondo, who was appointed in 2018 to lead an inquiry into allegations of systematic corruption under Zuma’s rule, handed his latest report to the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, on Friday.
The 1,000-page document accuses businessmen brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta of being the beneficiaries of Zuma’s efforts to fire competent officials, intervene in management decisions, appoint compliant ministers and influence the award of contracts worth huge sums.
Zondo said that the Guptas, who came to South Africa from India in the 1990s and built a sprawling commercial empire, had identified Zuma as someone “whose character was such that [the Guptas] could use him against the people of South Africa, his own country and his own government to advance their own business interests”.
Zuma won power in 2009. A populist who was expected to reconnect the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to increasingly disillusioned voters, he was forced out nine years later amid growing public anger at economic failures and a series of graft scandals.
He is on medical parole while serving a 15-month prison sentence after his conviction last year of contempt of court for defying a constitutional court order to testify before Zondo’s inquiry.
Zuma was jailed for contempt in July last year, a move which set off days of rioting in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces in which shops, warehouses and factories were looted and many burned. More than 300 people died in the unrest, the worst in South Africa since the end of the repressive, racist apartheid regime in 1994. ANC officials loyal to Ramaphosa described the violence as “political sabotage” and a potential attempt at a coup d’etat.
After three months behind bars, the 79-year-old politician was released on medical parole for an undisclosed health condition. A subsequent court judgment ruled the medical parole was invalid, but his lawyers are appealing that judgment.
Zuma and the Gupta brothers, who left South Africa after Zuma’s fall from power and are believed to be in Dubai, deny wrongdoing. They have previously said the allegations against them are politically motivated.
The commission has interviewed hundreds of witnesses, viewed tens of thousands of files and obtained phone records among other evidence.
The latest report also found that ministers and other officials knew of alleged efforts to steal vast sums from Eskom, the state power utility. Other scandals involve the national airline, which no longer flies, and a series of other state-owned companies.
The charges of wrongdoing related to Eskom are particularly sensitive in South Africa, and will cause new problems for the ANC party, in power for 28 years.
Chronic lack of maintenance, underinvestment and management failures have left Eskom unable to supply sufficient power to South Africa, resulting in frequent nationwide power cuts that have cut economic growth and hampered recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the report, Zondo asked why the ANC government had not acted to prevent the alleged corruption.
“Were they aware of everything but lacked the courage to stop President Zuma and his friends, the Guptas, in what they were doing? Were they looking the other way?” the judge wrote. “The ANC and the ANC government should be ashamed that this happened under their watch.”
Ramaphosa was deputy president from 2014 but the report will harm his enemies and rivals within the ANC more than it damages his own reputation. Analysts say the former union leader and business tycoon has a good chance of winning a second term at polls in 2024.
A separate corruption trial of Zuma has been postponed again on Monday pending the outcome of the former leader’s appeal to get the state prosecutor removed from his case.
The delay is the latest of many as it has been nearly 17 years since Zuma was first charged with corruption, fraud and money laundering related to South Africa’s controversial 1999 arms deal.
He is charged alongside French arms manufacturer Thales, which is accused of paying bribes to Zuma through his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2005.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority has accused Zuma of delaying tactics to prevent the start of the trial.
While Zuma has publicly said he wants his day in court, he has over the years launched numerous legal actions that have delayed the start of the trial.