Beware the future plots to capture the state

The Civil Society Working Group says that the failure to prosecute many of those implicated in state capture leaves the door open for continued looting of the public purse. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

Civil society organisations have collectively responded to the Zondo Commission report on state capture.

Civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Civil Society Working Group (CSWG) have issued a response to the Zondo Commission report on state capture that calls for various reforms to address shortcomings in the recommendations by the commission.

Over 20 organisations participating in the CSWG – including Black Sash, Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), My Vote Counts (MVC), and the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) – agree that the findings in the state capture report point to various risks that make South Africa vulnerable to the threat of deep corruption and looting in government in the future. This, according to the CSWG, means that they have to remain vigilant against the threat of the return of state capture.

With six volumes, the state capture report was released in June 2022 after a four-year long investigation of corruption crimes in the state.

One of the highlights of the Zondo Commission’s report is the implication of known politicians, companies in the private sector, individuals, and state-owned entities that either benefitted from, or enabled, crimes that eventually led to absolute state capture. Photo from government website

Nicky Prins, who was the civil society liaison in the Zondo Commission, said that the lack of visible consequences through convictions and sentencing of those involved leaves a fertile ground to enable more corrupt acts by government entities in the future. “There are civil cases that are being brought to individuals who are implicated in the report that are more advanced and while a number of them have been criminally charged, they also face many consequences such as being fired, losing positions and their reputation. But the fact that there have not been convictions and sentences is a big problem,” said Prins.

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The CSWG response states that the main weakness of the commission was its unevenness. “The attention paid to different facets of state capture was uneven and certain areas were under-served. This was worsened by the lack of communication to the public on what the logic behind the Commission deciding to investigate or exclude certain matters from the investigation was,” reads the report.

In addition to this, the report by civil society observes that the Commission took a lengthy period of time to conclude the inquiry. The report indicates that there were multiple delays in the process, some of which were a result of inefficient internal processes.

The collective response also highlights the failure of the Zondo Commission to consider the ways in which state capture affected the daily lives of people in the country, especially those who are living in poverty. Civil society says that the true impact and cost of state capture on society is not reflected in the commission report. “It failed to show that state capture crimes resulted in economic instability, austerity measures, the fallout from loadshedding, increase in government debt, and had significant impacts on the poor,” reads the report.

Speaking at a media briefing, Mohlatse Komote from Corruption Watch added that there are gaps around transparency in the public procurement system in South Africa, which she said relates to the fact that there is a lot of power that is centralised and can be linked to the “abuse” and “poor oversight” of the system as a result.

The state capture report details the levels of corruption of state institutions by private individuals and public officials who are entrusted with running government. 

Moving foward, the CSWG proposes comprehensive measures that would respond systemically to the levels of corruption which include a strong anti-corruption body, stronger procurement rules, accountability mechanisms, and law enforcement operations that are well capacitated and independent from political interference. “Civil society organisations need to remain organised and coordinated to push for a cause that aims to hold the government accountable, monitoring what is going on, and challenging what is happening in institutions. It is important to shine the light on these things so that citizens can see and take action,” said Prins in closing.

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