Ajay Gupta. File Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Ajay Gupta. File Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The blacklisting of the Gupta brothers and their associate Salim Essa by the US treasury is by far the most consequential action taken in the aftermath of their state capture project.

The action means all their properties and financial interests in the US will be frozen and they or their companies will not be able to do business in that country.

In a statement on Friday, the US treasury said: “The Gupta family leveraged its political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets.”

It is exactly these words South Africans are desperate to hear, but from an SA judge in an SA court, after a trial for which, for heaven’s sake everybody knows, there is abundant evidence.

So far, all we have had is a raid on the Gupta compound in Saxonwold, in which no Guptas were found; a seizure of assets from the house and other locations; and then the return of the assets when the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was unable to convince the court it had a reasonable chance of convicting the family. Had it not been for the Zondo Commission, it would seem as if the Zuma decade of looting had all been a bad dream.

In London on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa tried to explain his government’s lack of progress by telling his audience that corruption and state capture was much deeper than anyone realised initially and had cost the state between R500bn and R1-trillion. But, he said, “the fuse has been lit” and nobody could put it out.

While the SA public is fast losing patience with Ramaphosa’s promises that things will turn around, there are some grounds to believe that maybe, just maybe, the wheels of justice have been given some oil. Apart from its new head Shamila Batohi, who began work earlier in 2019, and the appointment of Cape advocate Hermione Cronje to a new directorate that will focus on serious crimes, the treasury has assured the NPA that funds will be found to fund state capture prosecutions.

The department of justice told the Sunday Times last week that Cronje’s new directorate — which was established after the budget for the year had already been finalised — will get R38m to start work. Five formidable senior counsel from the bar have been brought in to the NPA to help investigate and prosecute state capture crimes. More money has also been allocated to the Asset Forfeiture Unit, which has its old head Willie Hofmeyr back. The specialised commercial crime unit and the witness protection programme have also received several millions.

There are still enormous difficulties. People are gunning for Batohi. She has been the victim of disinformation, with her name included in a list circulated on Twitter of judges alleged to have been paid by Ramaphosa’s 2017 ANC presidency campaign. And five powerful prosecutors, some of whom were a part of the faction aligned to the Zuma administration and were central to undermining the integrity of the NPA, are fighting a decision by Ramaphosa to reverse their recent appointments. Ramaphosa is now fighting it in court.

There have also been allegations coming through the Zondo Commission of the bribery of NPA prosecutors and staff to provide information on certain cases. How deep this went and how many other staff members may have done the same is anyone’s guess.

Part of the state capture project was to disarm the NPA by forcing honest and accomplished prosecutors out; to replace them with ones more easily controlled and beholden to their superiors for their positions. A great deal of capacity was lost.

But while problems such as these were becoming ubiquitous, the trend has been arrested. These are now the small flames of progress, which, like Ramaphosa, we hope have lit the fuse. Perhaps one day SA too will be able to do more than blacklist the Guptas and will land at least some of them and their accomplices behind bars.