Commissions, Corruption and State Capture: Charting the Way Forward for South Africa

by Judith February and Sanan Mirzoyev (kindly supported by the Bradlow Foundation and published by SAIIA)

South Africa’s fledgling democracy has seen its fair share of commissions over a period of nearly three decades. At the outset, they were used as an instrument in society’s attempts to come to grips with the realities and horrors of its apartheid past through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). However, addressing apartheid’s legacy of unparalleled social and political exclusion and marginalisation has proven to be a far more arduous and perilous journey. The historical legacy of racialised marginalisation and exclusion has been compounded by inappropriate policy, poor governance, state capture (a systematic dismantling of democratic state institutions to further private interests) and endemic corruption. This has and continues to test the very democratic foundations upon which South African society is built.

The debilitating decade that characterised Jacob Zuma’s presidency (2009–2018) saw increased rates of poverty, economic stagnation, rampant criminality and corruption by both public and private actors, as well as a proliferation of service delivery failures. The African National Congress (ANC) recalled Zuma just short of his second term coming to an end and replaced him with Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018.

As the nation’s deputy president during Zuma’s rule, Ramaphosa entered office on an

anti-corruption ticket. Determined to repair and reinvent the ANC’s image, he made some credible appointments to key law enforcement agencies and instituted a number of commissions of inquiry. While not initiated by Ramaphosa himself, the largest and most renowned commission was the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture (SCC), more popularly known as the Zondo Commission. It was established on the strength of then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report and remedial action.

It is now time to reflect on the work that the commission has done and consider how those findings and recommendations can be used to bring about substantive accountability

and social change. This report seeks to contribute to the important public discourse on this issue.

It will do so by first exploring the theoretical questions relating to state commissions and enquiries. These include examining what they are and how they function, as well as the role that the judiciary should play in them, if any; and providing a definition of state capture that is suitable in the South African context. Second, the report will briefly consider various state commissions in South Africa over the years to contextualise the extent and impact of the state capture project.

The primary focus will be on the Zondo Commission. Its creation, as well as several of its key findings and recommendations, will be unpacked to determine how they can contribute

to workable policy and legislative outcomes in South Africa. Finally, the report will include a comparative element, using the experiences of Kenya and its own anti-corruption commissions, such as the Bosire Commission of Inquiry, to help identify best practices.