South Africa: Comission Opens Inquiry into Corruption During Zuma Rule

Former South African president Jacob Zuma, left, and accused company Thales, represented by Christine Guerrier, right, appear at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban, South Africa, April 6, 2018.

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JOHANNESBURG — A South African commission charged with probing allegations of widespread corruption under the government of former President Jacob Zuma started its first public hearings on Monday in Johannesburg.

The commission will investigate whether Zuma, his allies, and a wealthy business family, the Guptas, tried to influence the hiring and firing of government officials, among other allegations.

The body, which does not have prosecutorial powers but which can recommend legal action, was established up in January by Zuma, just weeks before he was forced to resign in disgrace by his own party, the African National Congress.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela, who tangled with Zuma for years over public money he used to upgrade his private estate, mandated that the president set up the commission of inquiry in a scathing report on corruption allegations against Zuma and his allies in 2016.

Zuma and members of the Gupta family have denied any wrongdoing.

Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who is heading the body, said on Monday that the commission’s work had already been delayed because the state security agency had been dragging its feet in granting the security clearances needed to proceed with investigations.

He also said the public’s response to his call to come forward with information relevant to the probe was “disappointing,” given the high level of public interest in the corruption allegations against the former president, his inner circle, and the Gupta family.

“The response has not been what we expected,” Zondo said on Monday.

“We all know there are many people out there who know – and who have evidence – of some of the things that were happening. This commission is an opportunity for all of us in the country to play a role, to contribute to finding a solution.”

Several high-profile witnesses are expected to testify as the hearing gets underway, including former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who has alleged that Ajay Gupta offered him money and the position of Finance Minister. Gupta has denied the allegations.