By: Clyde Ramalaine
The State Capture Commission is envisaged to conclude around March 2021. It is expected by March 31, 2021, to submit its final report to President of South Africa, Cyril M. Ramaphosa. The Zondo Commission has been sitting since August 20, 2018, at a cost to taxpayers of virtually R1bn.
On Sunday night in an eNCA Power to Truth interview with JJ Tabane, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the chair of the SOCC gave a brief update on the work of the Commission hitherto. In such an interview, Zondo bemoaned the fact that so few witnesses took the opportunity to show up to assist the Commission in its mandate. It was not the first time we heard this lament from the DCJ, meaning regardless to the several life extensions afforded to the Commission, the response in voluntary attendance remained subdued and somewhat chilled. I have previously asked why the Commission did not see it imperative to invite all former deputy-presidents, ministers and deputy ministers that served during the tenure of Zuma. An era that spanned from May 2009 to February 2018.
It seems only obvious and necessary to have assumed these for a variety of reasons as functionally present in the executive would have been able to assist the content of the Commission to conclude in a substantial and meaningful sense on the purported presence if not of state capture. Not having a majority of the aforementioned present at the commission does at least four things. It firstly robs the Commission from a broader input.
Secondly, it renders the Commission limited to only consider the views, experiences, opinions and interpretations of a few. Thirdly, it in a sense straitjackets the Commission in hitherto heard content to a specific narrative – with the risk of condemning the commission to a bias claim. At another level subjecting the Commission by-default or design to only hear these few inadvertently substantiates the claim of plausible agreed testimonies among those of similar persuasion. If more were present a more balanced content may have been harvested.
Zondo also told South Africa in the interview that President Ramaphosa, then deputy president from 2014 to 2018 will appear. Zondo informed listeners that he as far back as 2018 spoke to Ramaphosa and the latter confirmed that he would attend. It is also expected that the ANC would show up at the Commission. I am not sure why the ANC was not earlier asked to appear.
The exact words of Zondo in this regard: “I asked him [Ramaphosa] already in 2018. I had a meeting with him and I said that the work of the commission would not be complete without him or the government or the executive coming to the commission to give evidence. He explains his request as premised on, “That relates to the fact that he was part of the executive during a lot of time or some of the years when some of the things that the commission is looking into are alleged to have happened and he was deputy president of the country. During other years he was not deputy president of the country, but was deputy president of the ANC.”
This as comforting as it appears for some, to have the number two of the era dubbed ‘wasted years’, present at the Commission warrants closer examination. This statement of Zondo is open for interpretation in several ways. Firstly, Zondo asked Ramaphosa, in the form of a general and not a specific request. Secondly, Ramaphosa did not offer by himself to come forward to offer his testimony on what he knew or didn’t know in role definition.
What do we then make of the fact that Ramaphosa in absence of being asked by Zondo as we now know never volunteered of himself to come forward? Is this the same for all the many cabinet members whom Zondo expressed disappointment for not volunteering to come forward?
To this end we need to know is Ramaphosa appearing in a sense of formality? Or is he appearing as implicated even accused? There is a marked difference to have a sitting President appear in a sense to wrap up the work of the Commission since he is also to receive the finalised report in his capacity as president. We need to know why Zondo as far back as 2018 in conversation with Ramaphosa did not also express a need to see former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and all other cabinet members?
On another score why did Motlanthe not out if his own volition offer to come forward? Does it mean those who opted not to volunteer to come may not have believed that state capture was a reality? Why is Zondo not equally showing disappointment with Kgalema Motlanthe?
My understanding is that Ramaphosa may appear for any of a variety of reasons. One being that he shows up in formality – meaning to close the proceedings of the Commission. The other as a material witness as to his knowledge on the claim of state capture, since he was present as number two in the executive and also the ANC as a party. He may also appear for his direct role in the cited SOE’s that came to be considered the scenes of crimes of for the purported state capture. In that sense, his role as being in charge of government business and also in ESKOM as chairperson of war-room at a crucial time places him in the spotlight. Ramaphosa may also appear because he is directly and indirectly implicated since former PRASA Chairperson Popo Molefe told the Commission that he informed the ANC national office bearers (Baleka Mbete, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize and Jessie Duarte) who proverbially turned a deaf ear when warned of the crimes.
Ramaphosa may also appear because he is directly accused as former Eskom CEO Matshele Koko did in his evidence before the Commission. Ramaphosa may also appear since crimes, as led by former Bosasa executive Agrizzi, were entertained to the point that former ANC member of parliament Vincent Smith is currently in court for alleged corruption. It is of interest to the Commission to hear Ramaphosa on Bosasa and its former CEO Gavin Watson’s sponsoring his campaign for high office and to establish if there were any prior transactions. He may also appear as part of the ANC leadership past and present to answer the claim of their indifference which speaks to derelict of duty.
For the above manifold reasons Zondo needed to be crystal clear and less ambivalent on the issue of Ramaphosa’s presence as planned for what he took the liberty to inform us as of March 2021. If the premise for Ramaphosa’s attendance is a conversation between the DCJ and the SA President as far back as 2018, it could easily be construed as an official gentlemen-agreement between the Commission’s Chairperson and a sitting SA President, the latter the recipient of the finalised report, in their official capacities which materially may have nothing to do with Ramaphosa being implicated or as accused. This, what I choose to call an official gentleman – agreement may be absent of any material evidence against the president which could not have featured at the time of the request on the part of Zondo.
So, before we shout in typical SA ululation we warrant knowing the meaning and purpose of his coming to the Commission. This means Ramaphosa’s commitment to come must be critically engaged. A further indication that for both Zondo and Ramaphosa the formality element could be central rests in this that Zondo ventured to tell SA that Ramaphosa will come to the Commission in March 2021. March 2021 is the period this Commission must conclude as we already know. It is even possible that by March 31, 2021, the report must be finalised. Hence we ask again in what context is Ramaphosa coming to the Commission. While one is not privy to the inner-workings and systematic scheduling of witnesses before the Commission, we warrant understanding why the Commission took so long to entertain among others the former PRASA CEO Lucky Montana, former Eskom and Transnet CEO Brian Molefe, and former State Security Agency (SSA ) Director-General Arthur Fraser. Fraser has asked that some of the intelligence files be de-classified since some these documents form part of his affidavit to the Zondo Commission on state capture. We also know that these dossiers include one on Ramaphosa by the State Security Agency.
Forgive me for being cynical but is the attendance of Ramaphosa stage-played for March 2021 with the intention of not having him being engaged in cross-examination on his version as implicated and accused? Yes, I understand that the request and thus onus to seek to cross-examine those who implicated him rests on Ramaphosa. He may still tell us he intends doing so when he appears, yet that may not be accommodated since the commission would have run its course. Should both Molefe, Koko or even Fraser have been more explicit to directly ask the Commission to ascertain from Ramaphosa as to what his role was and why he stands accused of having acted the way he did as it relates to these respective affidavits of them as witnesses?
Finally, while it is a constitutional reality that the President appoints the Chief Justice and the tenure of Chief Justice Mogoeng runs to its end in 2021, is there an intertwined political, personal and career reality that plays into what Ramaphosa’s appearance at the Commission may mean? Is Zondo suppose to deliver heads on a platter for a political agenda for which he may be rewarded with the venerable Chief Justice seat? How will this play out if Zondo in good conscience finds against Ramaphosa as having been complicit to the crimes for which he is implicated or stands accused?
Zondo owes it to explain in detail the anticipated Ramaphosa presence at the Commission, with the same energy he speaks freely and authoritatively at every instance of former president Zuma. He warrants being clear to tell SA is Ramaphosa implicated, accused or showing up as a volunteer. If a volunteer, why when there are affidavits and statements before the Commission that either implicates and or accuses him.
An even more important aspect that Zondo must explain is, why in his Sunday Night interview with eNCA, he saw no natural need to allude to the recorded fact that Ramaphosa is currently accused by witnesses, this when he was at liberty to tell us Zuma is implicated by witnesses?
One would hope that the Commission concludes not as shrouded in crisis of legitimacy nakedly accused of having stage-played witnesses in appearance, orchestrated to consciously deny others opportunity to cross-examine some since it simply ran out of time. It would be an expedient excuse to blame lapsed time when a better system measurable in more even-handedness could have been adopted. Either way, the Commission has its own political identity and cannot escape the political and personal intertwined interest realities of Zondo and Ramaphosa which increasingly vibrates ever louder.