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South Africans Expect Justice for Alleged Looting of State Power Utility Eskom

Former South African President Jacob Zuma, in court, January 31, 2022

South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, the NPA, has reassured citizens that it’s “on track” to bring cases against those who stole public money when Jacob Zuma was president between 2009 and 2018. But South Africans are worried that no one will be punished for almost bankrupting the nation.

South Africans fear the NPA doesn’t have the resources and, more importantly, the political backing of the ANC, to prosecute the perpetrators of what financial experts call one of the biggest economic crimes in history.

Former President Jacob Zuma allegedly helped orchestrate a scheme dubbed ‘State Capture,’ whereby he and others in the ruling African National Congress, the ANC, plundered an estimated one-trillion rands, or 100-billion dollars, from state-owned enterprises.

A commission of inquiry has found that Zuma and some ANC cabinet ministers, in collaboration with three Indian businessmen brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta – put friends in charge of government corporations to loot them. Several of these national assets, such as electricity provider, Eskom, have been virtually destroyed.

Zuma describes the allegations of state capture against him as a “political plot” directed by current president, Cyril Ramaphosa. All ANC officials implicated in the alleged scheme deny wrongdoing. The Guptas, now based in Dubai, describe the work they did in South Africa as “legitimate business.”

NPA deputy director advocate Anton Alberts told reporters that state capture cases are going to take time.

“I know the public’s frustrated; we’re extremely frustrated, because this is complex and it’s difficult,” Alberts said, adding emphatically that the wheels of justice are indeed turning.

“The notion that nothing’s happened on state capture’s simply incorrect," Alberts said. "Not enough has happened, but a lot has happened. We’ve charged 65 people under state capture cases in the last 3 years. We’ve enrolled over 20 cases; we’ve declared over 80. We’ve frozen more than 5.9 billion rands worth of assets." Alberts said "That has laid the foundation for what’s able to happen now."

Alberts says the smaller cases that have left citizens feeling “cheated” are mere previews to what’ll begin within the next 6 months: The NPA’s prosecution of 9 major cases involving key figures in the alleged state capture plot.

“We have the evidence in these cases. They’re cases that are at the center of what we’ve seen to be state capture over the past few years. It’s a broad spectrum of cases; it really goes to the broader dimensions of what we’ve seen with state capture, both from the private sector, but also from the public sector.”

Alberts says it’s “reasonable” to assume that one of these cases will focus on the corruption and mismanagement at Eskom. The state capture commission found that former public enterprises minister, Lynn Brown, helped Zuma and the Guptas to pillage Eskom’s coffers. Alberts says the NPA is cooperating with current Eskom management to build a case.

“This isn’t a haphazard, shotgun approach," Alberts said. "It’s a coordinated approach, with the recognition that the crimes that’ve allegedly been committed at Eskom and continue to be committed, are undermining South Africa’s development prospects, so this strikes right at the heart of the future of our country.”