South Africa

Sweeping reforms to fight corruption in South Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he’ll implement sweeping reforms in response to recommendations by a judicial panel that probed corruption during his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s calamitous rule.

The president undertook to review and redesign the country’s entire anti-graft architecture, ban ministers from participating in procurement at state companies, introduce new laws regulating the issuing of government contracts and ensure whistle-blowers are better protected.

“The people of South Africa are tired of corruption and want it to end,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday, a day after submitting a 76-page report to parliament that details his response to the damning findings of the panel headed by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The government is committed to combatting corruption “in all its forms, in every part of government and in every sphere of the state,” he said.

Zondo spent four years probing graft during Zuma’s almost nine-year tenure — a practice known locally as state capture. More than 300 witnesses described how government departments and companies were looted of billions of rand by the former president’s allies, with his tacit consent.

Ramaphosa has said previously that at least R500 billion was stolen from the state during his predecessor’s tenure.

The Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based body that polices compliance with anti-money laundering and terror-financing measures, has the government to address shortfalls in its illicit-financing controls before October. It’s threatened to add South Africa to a list of countries that face increased monitoring if the government fails to implement those measures.

The bulk of Zondo’s recommendations was directed at the law-enforcement agencies, which were urged to investigate 202 government officials, businessmen and entities.

So far, the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigating directorate has filed 26 related cases and opened 89 investigations, and 165 people who were implicated have appeared in court, according to Ramaphosa.

The authorities have also recovered R2.9 billion and frozen or obtained preservation orders against a further 12.9 billion rand worth of assets.

Zondo found that several top officials, including Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and Deputy Minister of State Security Zizi Kodwa, took payments from companies seeking state contracts and recommended that prosecutors consider charging them.

In his report to parliament, Ramaphosa said he would review the findings against members of his executive “and determine, on a case-by-case basis, in line with his discretion in this regard and his obligation to observe the principle of legality and to act rationally, whether or not any action ought to be taken.”

Ramaphosa is expected to seek re-election as head of the ANC in December, limiting his scope to act against other heavyweights in the party whose support he may need to win the leadership race. Mantashe and Kodwa, who are closely allied to the president, have both denied wrongdoing and said they would seek a judicial review of Zondo’s finding.

While Zondo recommended that the government establish a permanent anti-corruption commission and an independent public procurement anti-corruption agency, Ramaphosa said those proposals required further consideration in the light of reforms already underway.

The chief justice’s proposals that the electoral system be changed and the president be directly elected, would also require constitutional changes and an extensive process of consultation and deliberation that involves the whole of society, he said.

Zondo was stinging in his criticism of Ramaphosa for failing to speak out about the plunder during the five years he served as Zuma’s deputy, and of the governing African National Congress, which he said had done nothing to stamp out corruption within its ranks. The president didn’t directly respond to those allegations.

While Ramaphosa remains the front-runner in the party-leadership race, his image has been further tarnished by a scandal over the theft of foreign currency from his game farm in 2020. Opposition parties have accused him of failing to properly report the crime and questioned whether he may have violated tax or foreign-exchange control rules.

Law-enforcement agencies are looking into the case, and parliament is waiting for a panel’s recommendation on whether to pursue impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa.


Top JSE indices