A judicial inquiry into alleged corruption at the top levels of South Africa's government opened in Johannesburg on Monday, probing allegations of fraud and graft during the tenure of former president Jacob Zuma.
What you need to know
- Zuma appointed the judicial inquiry back in January on the orders of the high court, shortly before he was forced to resign on February 14, following mounting criticism from within the ruling ANC party over a scandal which has become known as "state capture."
- The panel is being led by South Africa's second highest judge, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo
- It does not have the power to arrest or prosecute, however, any evidence it collects can be used in any future prosecution case.
- Justice Zondo is urging as many witnesses as possible to come forward.
The commission's lead lawyer, Paul Pretorius, made it clear that Zuma and his former cabinet ministers will be key witnesses throughout the inquiry.
"At the heart of the investigation is whether outsiders influenced government or state-owned enterprises for selfish gain," he said.
Gupta family's political influence to be investigated
High ranking officials are expected to be summoned throughout the inquiry to explain the government's connection with the Guptas — a wealthy family of Indian origin — and their alleged influence within South African politics.
Zuma, as well as government ministers and staff from state-owned entities, have been accused of awarding unlawful tenders to the Gupta family.
According to an earlier watchdog report which was issued two years ago by South Africa's former Public Protector, Thuli Madonslea, Zuma worked to ensure that members of the Gupta family were given preferential contracts with state companies — including significant mining deals — and were even offered the opportunity to choose cabinet ministers.
Legal teams representing some of the inquiry's key players — including Zuma and members of the Gupta family — have pledged maximum cooperation. However, lawyers representing Zuma have already asked for more time to gather witness statements.
Individuals and entities involved in the corruption scandals are expected to either appear before the commission in person, or make written statements regarding the role that they played.
A long process expected
Justice Zondo expressed his disappointment over the delay of the inquiry, accusing some state officials of lacking cooperation in the lead up to the process. However, he made it clear that no further delays will be tolerated.
"This commission is an opportunity for all of us in this country to contribute to finding solutions to, one, state corruption, and two, state capture," he said.
However, human rights activist Rehad Desai, who is currently working on a film about state capture, is concerned the inquiry will not be given enough time to examine everyone involved.
"If we look at all levels of government, if we look at all 21 institutions, by the time this commission has to wrap up its work, there will not [have been] sufficient time to be able to cross examine those key people," he told DW.
The inquiry was initially tasked to investigate and formally conclude its findings within six months; however the commission has already asked an extension of up to two years.
ANC party image remains tainted
Zuma's successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has promised to crack down on allegations of government corruption; however the inquiry may do even more damage to the reputation of the ruling ANC party.
A number of the party's past and serving leaders are likely to be implicated further in the state capture scandal as the party gears up for next year's elections.
Despite Ramaphosa's pledge to restore public trust in state institutions, law enforcement agencies have been criticized for being too slow to apprehend those suspected of being involved in cases of graft.
Thuso Khumalo contributed to this report.Ineke Mules