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State capture: The hunters have become the hunted

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Brian Molefe’s statement at the Zondo Commission effectively upended and recalibrated the whole discourse on state capture by locating President Cyril Ramaphosa at the centre, writes Professor Sipho Seepe.

Brian Molefe has forced the country to shift its gaze to the real state capture, says the writer. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

By Professor Sipho Seepe

The opening statement by former Eskom chief executive, Brian Molefe, testifying at the Zondo Commission into State Capture triggered a seismic shift whose political implications are far and wide.

Within minutes, the propaganda machine went into overdrive as it tried to contain the political debris. But by then the horse had bolted.

The statement effectively upended and recalibrated the whole discourse on state capture by locating President Cyril Ramaphosa at the centre.

The cataclysmic import of Molefe’s statement was not lost on Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who in hindsight regretted not having been privy to the statement. In retort, Molefe pointed out that everything he said is contained in the affidavit sent to the commission in May 2020.

Even before the statement was completed, the tables had turned. The hunters had become the hunted. The Accuser in Chief, President Ramaphosa and his drum majorettes were now in the dock. The heroes had transmogrified into villains.

First, Ramaphosa was reduced to nothing more than a hired gun to do the bidding for multinational companies at the expense of both Eskom and the country. This is heady seditious stuff.

Under Ramaphosa, Molefe charged, “Eskom management and Glencore were in the process of subverting section 38(1)(c)(i) of the PFMA. The amount that Glencore wanted Eskom to pay for their original mistake of not doing due diligence was R8 billion.”

Second, as Chairperson of the War Room “Eskom senior managers were being distracted from fighting load shedding by being made to attend endless meetings at which they were supposed to give unending and meaningless reports”.

Third, it was during Ramaphosa’s tenure as chair of Optimum that “the unlawful agreement that sought to increase the price of coal from R150 and set aside the penalties was negotiated and agreed to by certain members of Eskom staff in 2014.”

The Commission was not spared criticism. For Molefe it was baffling that the “Commission on State Capture missed an opportunity to investigate the nature of the cost-plus mines and 40-year contracts”.

This contrast with a company under scrutiny, Tegeta, which “supplied less than 4% of Eskom coal, while in 2015 four other companies supplied more than 80% of Eskom coal to the value in excess of R40bn per annum (with 40-year contracts)”.

In doing so, Molefe forced the country to shift its gaze to the real state capture. Everything before then was mere sideshows.

To be fair, the Commission misdirection had become evident when another Accuser-in-Chief Pravin Gordhan disintegrated under mild cross examination. Gordhan was shown to be someone wont of dispensing allegations against others while knowing full well that he has no proof. The testimony of fellow travellers, dubbed then to be star witnesses, was found to be at best unsatisfactory and at worse very dubious.

Molefe is not alone in pointing out that the Commission may have misdirected its gaze in dealing with state capture.

Writing to both Zondo and the Constitutional Court, advocate Vuyani Ngalwana SC felt that as an officer of the court, he could not sit idly when in his “assessment, the country is going to ruin while organs of state established to protect and promote the Constitution fail to ask critical questions of people who seem protected from scrutiny and who have much to answer for”.

Ngalwana argued that “the Deputy President during the period that has been dubbed by some as ’9 wasted years’ (May 9, ,2009 to February 14, 2018) should be invited by the Chairperson of the State of Capture Commission. Ideally, the entire cabinet of those years should have been questioned by the Commission on their role in the alleged corruption of those years”.

In dealing with specifics, Ngalwana pointed out that Ramaphosa should “account for his role in the decimation of state-owned entities, particularly on what his interventions were to ’stabilise and reform’ these entities during his tenure as Chair of President Jacob Zuma’s IMC on state-owned enterprises, and where, in his assessment, the failures and successes of his efforts lie”.

Ngalwana is unimpressed that the Commission has not investigated the National Treasury Integrated Financial Management System which reportedly cost a R1 billion. Regarding this, the Director-General, Mr Mogajane averred “basic financial management processes were thrown out the door” and blamed the loss on “major mistakes”.

The failure to investigate this wastage stands in glaring contrast to how the mainstream media made a song and dance about R230 million spent on Nkandla.

Calling for accountability, Ngalwana argues that “a billion rand cannot just disappear, and everybody moves on as ’major mistakes’ were made. That money must have gone to people and businesses. Who are they? Why them? What benefit did National Treasury derive for that money?”

The failure by the Commission to do so is of its own making. It allowed itself to be sidetracked by colourful individuals. As a parting shot, Ngalwana is of the view that the Commission cannot shy away from looking into the CR17 funding campaign.

This is important in light of “allegations of people being appointed to state owned enterprises’ board positions, and others being awarded contracts of considerable value, allegedly as a result of their financial contributions to the President’s election campaign in December 2017. Are these allegations true or false?”

He concludes that without clarity on these issues “South Africans with the good of the country at heart cannot move forward with a clear conscience that corruption is a thing of the past, and that the serving President is free from the influences of big business”.

The submissions by Ngalwana and Molefe have placed the entire Commission as well as the conduct of its Chair under scrutiny.

Only time will tell whether the President, and the Commission can redeem themselves. Nothing short of the Commission’s intense cross examination of the President would suffice.

Denials meted out to a sycophantic media will not do. Ramaphosa’s loud protestations portrays a desperate pseudo-moral crusader who suddenly realises that he will be exposed sooner or later.

* Seepe is the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL/DFA.