South African President Cyril Ramaphosa this week will make his second appearance before a panel investigating the alleged looting of state coffers under his scandal-tainted predecessor Jacob Zuma.
The commission, tasked with uncovering the full extent of official corruption, will make recommendations to prosecutors when it wraps up 34 months of hearings at the end of June.
Here is key background to the panel and its work:
Zuma appointed a fact-finding panel after a 2016 report by South Africa’s anti-graft watchdog identified him as a kingpin of patronage and malfeasance.
He said the commission would prove his innocence and erase public doubt over the government’s commitment to eradicating “all forms of corruption”.
Setting up the judicial commission in January 2018, Zuma asked it to investigate allegations of fraud known as “state capture” by special interests, appointing deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo as its chair.
One month later, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party forced Zuma to step down as allegations piled up and his popularity plummeted.
Ramaphosa came to power vowing to fight corruption, and the panel that Zuma commissioned launched hearings in August 2018.
More than 270 witnesses, including politicians, business people, civil servants, and anonymous state security agents, have testified.
Many referred to a wealthy Indian immigrant family headed by three brothers — Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh Gupta — who are accused of having wielded undue influence over Zuma.
The brothers are at the centre of the 2016 graft report, which claims they paid bribes to influence ministerial appointments and plunder state organs. They fled South Africa shortly after the commission started, and their whereabouts are unknown.
One witness described bags bulging with cash, sometimes totalling as much as six million rand ($427 million) in a month, being delivered to ANC bigwigs during secret meetings in upmarket hotels, in exchange for the awarding of lucrative contracts to one private company.
Several witnesses detailed an audit for a major asbestos roof removal project in central Free State province. The project was never completed, yet $10 million went missing. This led to the indictment and suspension of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, the provincial governor at the time.
Some witnesses and whistleblowers, including some who remained anonymous, have reported receiving death threats since they testified.
THE ZUMA QUAGMIRE
Zuma first appeared before the commission in July 2019, denying any wrongdoing. He withdrew two days later, complaining of being “treated as someone who was accused”. The former president has since ducked all calls to testify.
Exasperated, Zondo petitioned the Constitutional Court, which ordered Zuma to testify in January. But he refused, saying he would “rather face jail” and that “no amount of intimidation or blackmail” would change his mind.
The commission has since asked the top court to jail Zuma for two years for contempt of court.
To date, the anti-graft panel has cost South African taxpayers over 800 million rand ($57 million).
Ramaphosa, who was Zuma’s deputy president, first testified as head of the ANC in April. He alleged that “rot” and graft had riddled the party under Zuma.
The president will testify again on Thursday and Friday in his capacity as head of state.
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