South Africans were cheered this week with three announcements many thought would never come: arrests in relation to state corruption and plans to sell vacant farmland and new Internet spectrum.
Four government officials and business people were detained on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a R255-million asbestos audit project awarded by a provincial housing department, according to a police unit. These were followed on Thursday by the indictments of Angelo Agrizzi, a former executive at services company Bosasa, and Vincent Smith, a senior politician in the ANC.
The moves represent a rare sign of progress in the fight to curb graft that became rife under former President Jacob Zuma. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, launched an inquiry into corruption in early 2018, but many South Africans had become disillusioned with the process as few have been held accountable. That only worsened at the height of the country’s Covid-19 pandemic, when a string of dubious contracts to supply personal protection equipment came to light.
The government went on to announce the imminent auction of almost 900 vacant or underutilised state-owned farms across the country, a move aimed at helping those discriminated against during apartheid. Land has long been a highly emotive issue in South Africa as the minority white population continues to dominate private ownership more than a quarter century after the first all-race election in 1994.
The auction of new broadband spectrum is another government pledge that has been on the back burner for years. Yet the industry regulator on Wednesday laid out plans to sell more than R8-billion worth over the next six months. Ramaphosa had included the initiative in an economic revival plan published earlier this month, which also contained promises to fight graft.
Vodacom Group and MTN Group have long called for more spectrum to help grow in their domestic market. They claim the lack of bandwidth is responsible for the country’s relatively high data prices, another source of public disgruntlement.
The rand strengthened for a fourth consecutive day, gaining 0.8% to R16.61 the dollar as of 1.14pm in Johannesburg. — Reported by John Bowker, (c) 2020 Bloomberg LP