Over the past two days, President Cyril Ramaphosa made his hotly anticipated first appearance before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, in his capacity as ANC president. He will appear again in May to testify about his time as former deputy president of the country, at the height of state capture. But, given the ruling party’s policy of deploying its members into key government positions, the issues bled into each other.
Ramaphosa kicked off on Wednesday with a nearly hour-long opening statement – (not to be confused with his annual State of the Nation address, because it surely sounded like it). Here he emphasised his responsibility towards the commission, perhaps in intended contrast to former President Jacob Zuma undermining the rule of law by refusing to show up.
The big focus this week was on our wrecked state-owned enterprises, which became a feeding ground for the corrupt, as dubious Gupta-linked officials were deployed to run them. The appointments, according to Ramaphosa, were not endorsed by the ANC’s deployment committee, which he chaired as deputy president.
He fell short of outright condemning the party’s deployment policies. We’d like to see a depoliticised civil service running our state apparatus, but it looks like we’re a long way away from that.
Rampahosa also said he wasn’t aware of the state capture project while it was happening. “Some of these state capture issues became only evident in time as we moved on,” he said. He claimed that the Cabinet had a “silo approach” and “almost everybody kept to their lane”.
Ramaphosa did say the ANC was “accused number one” when it comes to corruption, with the candour he’s regularly practiced when it comes to acknowledging where his party has gone wrong. But it can come across as empty rhetoric.
However in response to the corruption plaguing its members, he spoke about the now infamous step-aside rule, and said those who don’t do so will be suspended. He’ll get a chance to prove it soon. By our calculations, yesterday was the deadline for the party’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, to step aside given that he’s facing charges. If he doesn’t he should be suspended, if Ramaphosa is to be taken at his word. Will he be?
So: Ramaphosa’s testimony thus far has been very broad, with little detail on specific wrongdoing.
But Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo seems to be on the case. He has repeatedly asked Ramaphosa for details about what exactly the ANC admitted it did wrong during the state capture era – “so that there’s no repeat”.
Ramaphosa agreed to do so by the end of his testimony, which is set to conclude in late May. We’ll give you the full story once it lands.
This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 15 April 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.