The deeply problematic Seriti Commission established in 2011 at the behest of Zuma is currently investigating alleged wide spread corruption that took place in the strategic defense procurement package, a non-transparent arms deal that took place in 1999 with great cost to the South African taxpayer. This occurred at a time when the government argued it couldn’t afford to supply those in the public who were HIV positive with life saving drugs.
International investigators have repeatedly singled out Zuma, Deputy Prime Minister at the time, Mbeki, then Prime Minister and Schabir Shaik, a very close friend and financial adviser of Zuma’s who famously was convicted for corruption and fraud in 2005 (for more on this relationship see this brief excerpt), as all being deeply involved in the large amounts of bribes being shifted during and after the deal. Domestic allegations against the deal were notably made by Andrew Feinstein, a senior ANC member, who left the party in protest when the government curtailed a probe, and then head/chair of the parliament’s public accounts watchdog SCOPA.
At the time he repeatedly called for deeper investigations into the proceedings, causing the ANC to become internally divided over the scandal. In his book on the fiasco, After the Party, Feinstein recalls that Zuma at first was unpredictably supportive of his calls for investigation; Feinstein later uncovered that the reason for this was that Zuma had yet to be paid by the French multinational arms company Thales and was trying to leverage payment from them.
Zuma then unsurprisingly cut communications with Feinstein once he had received his payment. Zuma’s connection to Thales continued past the Arms deal, with Thales providing Zuma with many substantial donations and miscellaneous luxuries, transactions operating under the code name Eiffel Tower. A testimony from a former fixer for Thales called Ajyay Sookal revealed this hidden truth many years later. Thanks to the Attorney General of Western Cape vocally pressuring the ANC, in 2001 a joint investigative report was published that absolved the government of criminality, however this report was disputed. It was disputed to the point that Archbishop Emerritus Desmond Tutu tried to get the ANC to launch an independent and public judicial commission to genuinely solve the issue in 2008 and 2011.
Why am I complaining abut this issue though when, as I mentioned previously, Zuma has established an investigation into the issue? The answer to that question, is that this commission is not fit for purpose (what a shock) and the results of its findings should be approached very skeptically. Arms deal whistleblower Richard Young ran the company CCII Systems, a company that lost tender on supplying the Information Management systems for the combat suites of the navy’s new Corvettes during the arms deal. He testified before the commission, and has since gone on to question its credibility. Alongside him in this opprobrium is Cape Town Mayor and fellow whistleblower Patricia De Lille.
They were not alone either. The Democratic Alliance and the Right2Know campaign group (as well as 30 Civil Society Organisations) both expressed disappointment over a report they considered a taxpayer money wasting whitewash, Right2Know being particularly indignant about the extent they believe the commission went to cover up the role of ANC luminary Tony Yengeni who profited greatly from the arms deal’s proceedings.
It comes as no surprise that they’ve done this, as many people involved in the commission have left it during its investigation citing whitewashing: the list of such people includes Norman Moabi, a lawyer who claimed the commission had a ‘second agenda’, and Kate Painting (an attorney who claimed non-compliance was met with hostility from fellow members). This was in addition to the three man group of Andrew Feinstein, Hennie Van Vuuren and Paul Holden who declined to testify at all due to what they viewed as four key shortcomings (outlined here) of the Commission and its processes.
I have gone into more detail on this specific issue as the arms deal is seen as a watershed moment in South African politics. Corruption has since saturated South African politics (take the growth and success of the excellent NPO Corruption Watch in South Africa as evidence of this endemic trend), so much so that when Jacob Zuma was inaugurated as president in 2009, he had already faced 700 counts of corruption (figure as of 2008). The decision at the time to drop all these charges has been called into question by the high court this year, who now want to review the national prosecutor of the time’s alleged irrational decision.
The Democratic Alliance tried to push through a Zuma impeachment motion in the South African parliament earlier this year; the ANC has a majority of 400 seats so it unsurprisingly fell flat. Despite this opposition many figures in and associated with the ANC are now publicly dissenting against the continuation of the Zuma presidency. Heavyweights like George Bizos (Mandela Friend and human rights lawyer), Trevor Manuel (former finance minister) and Cheryl Carolous (the organisation’s former Deputy Secretary General) have now all spoken out, and this is just to cite a few of the dissenters.
In her recent book on Jacob Zuma’s perpetual misconduct, Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma, Susan Booysen puts forth that Zuma’s toxic persona is undermining the future the ANC’s future, as well as its ability to govern in a united manner. Zuma has come to be the nadir of the post-apartheid ANC. As Tshwane lights up literally and figuratively, and an election draws near the ANC is starting to truly recognize the tensions and irrevocable damage Zuma furthers and leaves in his wake. Zuma unfortunately will be entrenched in power until a member of the ANC top six moves against him privately or publicly.