JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday he will set up a commission of inquiry into allegations of influence-peddling, after a 2016 anti-graft report called for a judge to investigate any corruption in his government.
Zuma was ordered to establish the inquiry within 30 days of a High Court ruling last month, which upheld the recommendations of South Africa’s corruption-fighting Public Protector, which was done run by Thuli Madonsela.
“I am concerned that this matter has occupied the public mind for some time now and deserves urgent attention,” Zuma said in a statement, see below.
Zuma’s announcement comes on the back of an announcement that Madonsela has joined Stellenbosch University and a day before a meeting of the ruling African National Congress executive committee amid speculation that new party leader Cyril Ramaphosa and his allies are lobbying members to oust Zuma as head of state.
— Prof Thuli Madonsela (@ThuliMadonsela3) January 9, 2018
Ramaphosa, who is also deputy president, publicly supports Zuma, whose term does not officially end until 2019 when elections will be held, but he could be removed early through a motion of no confidence in parliament or at the ANC meeting.
The 75-year-old president has faced and denied numerous corruption allegations since taking office in 2009 and has survived several votes of no-confidence in parliament.
Zuma had challenged the right of the Public Protector to call for a judicial inquiry and the appointment by the chief justice of a judge to head it, saying it was the president’s prerogative whether to set up such an inquiry.
Zuma had also previously sought to block the release of the 2016 report, entitled “State of Capture”, which focused on allegations that Zuma’s friends, the businessmen and brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, had influenced the appointment of ministers.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, selected by the Chief Justice will head the commission, Zuma said in the statement.
Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Alison Williams
Pursuant to the investigation and remedial action of the Public Protector regarding complaints and allegations of the State of Capture, as well as the orders issued by the North Gauteng High Court in its judgment of 14 December 2017, I have decided to appoint a Commission of Inquiry.
The Court ordered that, among other things, the remedial action of the Public Protector is binding and that the President is directed to appoint a commission of inquiry within 30 days, headed by a judge solely selected by the Chief Justice. The Court also ordered that I should personally pay the costs of the review.
I have appealed the cost order as well as the order regarding the duties of the President to appoint commissions of inquiry in terms of section 84 of the Constitution.
However, I am taking further legal advice on the prosecution of this appeal. I am concerned that this matter has occupied the public mind for some time now and deserves urgent attention.
I have only appealed the orders to the extent that they set a particular precedent for the Office of the President of the Republic and are indeed deserving of legal certainty.
The allegations that the state has been wrestled out of the hands of its real owners, the people of South Africa, is of paramount importance and are therefore deserving of finality and certainty.
Accordingly, I have decided that, while the issues determined by the order require final determination by higher courts, this matter cannot wait any longer.
It is of such serious public concern that any further delay will make the public doubt government?s determination to dismantle all forms of corruption, and entrench the public perception that the state has been captured by private interests for nefarious and self-enrichment purposes.
The commission must seek to uncover not just the conduct of some, but of all those who may have rendered our state or parts thereof vulnerable to control by forces other than the public for which government is elected.
There should be no area of corruption and culprit that should be spared the extent of this commission of inquiry.
I am also mindful of the concerns raised by the Public Protector in her report, wherein she lamented the lack of resources to conduct a wider inquiry into this matter.
Accordingly, by making more resources available, it is my sincere hope that the commission, will be able to reach many of those areas of concern that may not have been reached by the Public Protector?s investigation, but form part of what she might have investigated, had she had sufficient resources to do so.
I have considered this matter very carefully, including the unprecedented legal implications of the order directing the Chief Justice to select a single judge to head the commission of inquiry. I have expressed my reservations about the legality of this directive, which may be the subject of the appeal. I would like to emphasise that I have faith in all the judges and their ability to execute their tasks with the requisite levels of fairness, impartiality and independence.
I requested the Chief Justice to provide me with the name of the judge to head the Commission. He has selected Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Mnyamezeli Mlungisi Zondo to undertake this task.
I urge everyone to cooperate with the commission of inquiry.
I trust that we will all respect the process and place no impediments to prevent the Commission from doing its work.
I thank you.