Johannesburg – South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, accused of being a graft enabler, on Saturday rubbished as “unlawful” and “full of gossip” a judicial report detailing how rampant corruption gutted state coffers during his nine-year tenure.
He plans to challenge sections of the report, a product of a marathon four-year probe into what is known as state capture.
The web of corruption hollowed out state companies in the continent’s most advanced economy to the benefit of a few wealthy individuals and firms.
Zuma’s foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi told a media conference Zuma regarded the report as “unlawful and highly irrational”.
“It is predictably full of gossip, innuendo and conjecture. It is very short on concrete evidence,” said Manyi.
“The report is, therefore, a classical case of the fruits of a poisoned tree.”
Zuma set up the special probe panel himself, after a damning report by the national ombudswoman about corruption at state enterprises forced his hand.
The report accuses Zuma of being “a critical player” in the plan to pillage state firms through the Gupta family of business tycoons.
The Guptas allegedly influenced top government cabinet appointments, including those of cabinet ministers, and secured business deals with giant state-owned companies on wildly favourable terms.
Two of the three Indian migrant brothers who fled the country the same year the corruption probe started four years ago were arrested earlier this month in Dubai pending extradition to South Africa.
Zuma’s office said the corruption investigators “dismally failed to find evidence beyond innuendo and conjecture to prove” that Zuma had abdicated his executive authority to the Guptas.
The ex-president briefly appeared before the investigators, but walked out and refused to return to answer questions.
His refusal to testify prompted a showdown at the Constitutional Court, which ordered his imprisonment in July 2021 for contempt.
Zuma’s incarceration sparked riots in which more than 350 people lost their lives — the deadliest unrest of the democratic era in South Africa. He was released after two months on medical parole.
Zuma had been billed to address the press conference, but his lawyers said they had advised him at the last minute to not attend to avoid violating his parole conditions.
It took the investigation, led by the now Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, nearly four years of hearing testimonies and reading through volumes of documents.
In more than 400 days of testimony, millions of pages of documents, and 300 witnesses, the inquiry incriminated 1,438 individuals and institutions, including Zuma.
According to Zuma’s office, the probe was “a toothless inquiry investigating a phantom thing called ‘state capture'”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa estimates the corruption cost the country more than $30 billion.
The media conference was held at a small hotel near Liliesleaf Farm, a historical landmark in northern Johannesburg that served as a secret headquarters and nerve centre of the then banned African National Congress, which led the fight against apartheid.
Nelson Mandela also hid at the farm disguised as a farm worker.
Picture: Getty Images