SA: Ramaphosa Green Lights New Anti-Graft Directorate

Published: 22 March 2019

RamaphosaSouth Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa approved a new investigating council this week. (Photo: Wikipedia, Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0)

By Lucy Papachristou

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa this week signed a proclamation that officially establishes a new investigating council to examine high-profile cases such as the country’s ongoing state capture inquiry.  

The new body will be part of the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). Ramaphosa announced the new directorate in his most recent state of the nation address on February 7th, saying it would handle “serious corruption and associated offences.” 

“The directorate will bring together a range of investigatory and prosecutorial capacity from within government and in the private sector under an investigating director reporting to the NDPP,” Ramaphosa said in his address.

 Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko said the directorate is the president’s effort to intensify “government’s campaign against corruption and state capture,” according to the Times, a South African online daily. 

The directorate has been dubbed the “new Scorpions” in reference to the Directorate of Special Operations, known as the “Scorpions,” - an multidisciplinary agency that investigated and prosecuted organized crime and corruption. 

The South African Parliament voted to disband the agency in October 2008 in a move that opposition critics characterized as politically motivated. The Scorpions had investigated the then-police commissioner Jackie Selebi, and pushed for corruption charges to be filed against President Jacob Zuma, according to the BBC

In his February address, Ramaphosa specifically mentioned the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, a public inquiry into alleged corruption under Zuma.

Under intense pressure, Zuma launched the inquiry in early January 2018 following a scandal which erupted after documents leaked to the South African press in 2017 revealed close ties between Zuma and the well-connected Gupta family. Several of Zuma’s children served as directors of Gupta companies.

The Guptas relocated to South Africa from India in 1993 and have allegedly used their vast wealth to wield influence over the government. It is suspected that kickbacks amounting to US$411 million were paid in exchange for state contracts.

After establishing the commission, Zuma resigned the following month due to pressure from within his own party. 

Late last month Ramaphosa established a special tribunal to expedite prosecutions and recover the stolen funds, and also proposed that dirty money recovered by the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority could be used to fund the “new Scorpions.” 

Ramaphosa has tried to paint himself as an anti-corruption politician, but just last November he was forced to return a $35,000 leadership campaign donation given by a firm accused of corruption, Bosasa. The company’s former COO, the primary whistleblower in the state capture inquiry, was himself charged with corruption early last month.