South African anti-graft panel plans hearings in August

A South African judicial commission probing the alleged looting of billions of rand from the government and state companies during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure said it will start holding public hearings in August.

The panel’s success in getting to the bottom of the graft scandal will go a long way in determining whether the country can put behind it years of mismanagement that undermined investor confidence and stymied economic growth. Its findings could be used as the basis for criminal prosecutions by law enforcement agencies, which are also conducting several concurrent probes.

“We will be working flat out so that the commission doesn’t take a day longer than it should,” Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the so-called State Capture Commission of Inquiry, told reporters Thursday in Johannesburg. The panel could need as long as two years to complete its work and may approach the High Court to extend its 180-day mandate, he said.

All government departments that have been approached are cooperating with the inquiry, Zondo said.

Thuli Madonsela, the nation’s former graft ombudsman, ordered the probe after her own investigation implicated members of the Gupta family, who are in business with one of Zuma’s sons, and their allies in plundering taxpayer funds and exerting undue influence over the government. Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan, formerly the finance minister, has said that more than R100 billion ($8 billion) may have been stolen.

Zuma announced the establishment of the panel in January, a month after he lost control of the ruling party. He was forced to resign as president on February 14 and was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng selected Zondo to head the probe in line with Madonsela’s directive.

The panel will have to probe an array of deals between state entities and private businesses and interview scores of witnesses, many of whom may be reluctant to give evidence because they risk implicating themselves. Several key players, including the three Gupta brothers and Duduzane Zuma, have fled the country.