by Ferial Haffajee:  The appointment of the commissioners of inquiry into state capture is a moment of hope after a time of despair.  As deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo unveiled the six commissioners who will drive the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture with him on Wednesday, he said his desired outcome was to ensure that South Africa never again experienced the state capture it has suffered.

Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan has previously said that capture may have cost the country R100-billion in its most intense period – the country’s reputation for good governance was savaged, as economic growth declined over the past decade.  It is unlikely that Zondo’s commission can eradicate corruption, but the men and women who will dedicate a lot of this year to uncover what has happened is in itself a triumph of institutional strength and of law over the destruction of institutions in the pursuit of illegal accumulation.

The story starts with the former public protector, who bequeathed to South Africa a report on state capture that she said was incomplete. Because of this, she recommended that a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture be appointed by the then-president, Jacob Zuma, but that the choice of judge be made by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, because the former leader was “front and centre” in the story of corruption.

The result is the inquiry, the full title of which is “The judicial commission of inquiry to inquire into allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud in the public sector, including organs of state.”

Zondo will continue to sit as deputy chief justice as the commission’s wheels grind into gear in the last two weeks of March, but because the inquiry falls under him, the Constitutional Court serves as the protector of the inquiry and its shelter and home.  The judge who will preside over the exorcism of state capture had an ace up his sleeve when he announced that the former auditor-general, Terence Nombembe, will head investigations for the commission.

Nombembe built the auditor-general’s office into the formidable institution it is – one that is independent and fearless in protecting the public rand. He is forensically skilled and knows public finances inside and out. Most of the state capture happened at the interface between public and private lawlessness and involved looting public coffers, especially in the provinces and in the state-owned companies.


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