South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma handed control of the state power monopoly Eskom to a private business dynasty, according to an inquiry into systematic corruption under his rule.
In the inquiry’s most sweeping indictment yet of the country’s former leader, a report published on Friday found that Zuma “readily opened the doors” for the Guptas, a trio of India-born brothers, to “help themselves to the money and assets of the people of South Africa”.
Zuma was a “critical player” in manipulating Eskom, the utility that generates nearly all of South Africa’s electricity, in favour of the Guptas’ mining to media empire, and also unsuccessfully sought to impose their candidate for finance minister in 2015, the inquiry said. It called for Rajesh “Tony” Gupta and several former Eskom board members to be investigated for corruption.
In 2018 the ruling African National Congress replaced Zuma with Cyril Ramaphosa, who pledged to clean up graft, but the legacy of the looting, known as “state capture” in South Africa, lives on.
Eskom is plagued by recurrent rolling blackouts, a legacy of the looting and the poor maintenance of ageing coal power stations. “South Africans thought that the ANC government was in control of Eskom but it was not. It had relinquished the control to the Guptas and those people the Guptas wanted,” the inquiry said. “The ANC and the ANC government should be ashamed that this happened under their watch.”
The inquiry, headed by Raymond Zondo, South Africa’s chief justice, has released a total of four reports this year following four years of testimony, and has already blamed Zuma for rot in many parts of the state. But Friday’s findings are among the most damning yet.
“President Zuma was captured by the Guptas and they could get him to do whatever they wanted in order to advance their business interests and to advance state capture,” the inquiry said.
The Guptas, who struck up a friendship with Zuma as an up and coming ANC politician, “must have identified [Zuma] at a very early stage as somebody whose character was such that they could use him against the people of South Africa, his own country and his own government”, the inquiry added.
Zuma has always denied wrongdoing and has repeatedly defied the inquiry’s summons to answer questions even when the country’s highest court ordered him to attend. He was briefly jailed for contempt of court last year, which triggered a violent uprising by his supporters that led to more than 350 deaths.
The 2015 power struggle over the finance ministry marked the apex of the state capture scandal and caused South African capital markets to nosedive before Zuma relented. “I shudder what to think would have happened to this country” if Zuma’s choice of finance minister had not been reversed, Zondo said in Friday’s report.
The affair brought the influence of the Guptas into the open after Mcebisi Jonas, the deputy finance minister at the time, said he had been offered massive cash bribes by the family to take the top job.
The Guptas, who fled South Africa after Zuma’s downfall, have denied any wrongdoing, as have executives at Eskom. Ramaphosa has said that he will respond in full to the inquiry’s findings when the inquiry’s final report is released later this year.