South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma reverses course on corruption inquiry

BY BBC

Former South African president Jacob Zuma will give further testimony to a corruption inquiry, withdrawing an earlier threat to pull out.

His lawyer, Muzi Sikhakhane, had said on Friday that Mr Zuma would “take no further part” in the proceedings.

But the judge overseeing the inquiry later said Mr Zuma had agreed to provide it with written statements.

The inquiry is investigating allegations that the ex-leader oversaw a web of corruption while in office.

The 77-year-old, who began testifying on Monday, was forced to resign as president in February 2018.

He was replaced by his then-deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who promised to tackle corruption in South Africa. Mr Ramaphosa described Mr Zuma’s nine years in office as “wasted”.

Mr Ramaphosa was also the subject of a high-level corruption scandal. The country’s corruption watchdog accused him of deliberately misleading parliament over an election campaign donation.

Mr Ramaphosa has denied any knowledge of the payment.

Why did Mr Zuma threaten to withdraw?

The lawyer, Mr Sikhakhane, told the inquiry commission in Johannesburg: “Our client from the beginning… has been treated as someone who was accused.”

He criticised the investigation, led by Judge Raymond Zondo, alleging that it was a “political process where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing”.

He also said Mr Zuma had been subjected to “relentless cross-examination”.

Mr Zuma had been due to give a final day of testimony on Friday but the inquiry was adjourned.

“I expected that he would cooperate,” Judge Zondo said following Mr Zuma’s withdrawal. “The first purpose was to give him an opportunity to tell his side of his story.”

But shortly after, the judge said Mr Zuma had agreed to provide written statements and then return to the inquiry at a later date.

What is Mr Zuma accused of?
The allegations against Mr Zuma focus on his relationship with the controversial Gupta family, which has been accused of influencing cabinet appointments and winning lucrative state tenders through corruption.

He has also been accused of taking bribes from the logistics firm Bosasa, which is run by the Watson family. All the parties deny allegations of wrongdoing.

The scandal is widely referred to as “state capture” – shorthand for a form of corruption in which businesses and politicians commandeer state assets to advance their own interests.

On Monday, Mr Zuma gave a lengthy address in which he claimed the corruption allegations were a “conspiracy” aimed at removing him from the political scene.

“I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he said.

He implied that the UK and US had been – and still were – part of an elaborate plot to discredit him, even as he tried to bring about political and economic change in South Africa.

Mr Zuma also said other foreign agents had tried to poison him, without naming them or offering any proof.

“I never did anything with them unlawfully,” he said of the Gupta family. “They just remained friends, as they were friends to everybody else.”

He also objected to allegations that he had allowed the state to be “captured” by the family. “Did I auction Table Mountain? Did I auction Johannesburg?” he asked.

On Tuesday, the former president said he had received death threats following his testimony.

How did ‘state capture’ operate in South Africa?
Many of the revelations from the inquiry concern the relationship between two families – the Zumas, centred on the former president, and the Guptas, three Indian-born brothers who moved to South Africa after the fall of apartheid.

The two families became so closely linked that a joint term was coined for them – the “Zuptas”.

The Guptas owned a portfolio of companies that enjoyed lucrative contracts with South African government departments and state-owned conglomerates. They also employed several Zuma family members – including the president’s son, Duduzane – in senior positions.

According to testimony heard at the inquiry, the Guptas went to great lengths to influence their most important client, the South African state.

Public officials responsible for various state bodies say they were directly instructed by the Guptas to take decisions that would advance the brothers’ business interests.

It is alleged that compliance was rewarded with money and promotion, while disobedience was punished with dismissal.