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Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo. Picture: GCIS
Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo. Picture: GCIS

Among the gravest failings of the multibillion-rand state capture inquiry thus far is chair Raymond Zondo’s disorderly submission of reports, together with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s haphazard release of these volumes to the public.

In turn, the president has not had a word to say about acting chief justice Zondo’s tardiness, which has sold the public short. Reading the reports, it’s as if there’s an intention to be unfriendly to the reader. This is a costly own goal for the inquiry.

Time and again SA’s citizenry has been schooled on the promised merits of this process as a means of lancing the pustular boil of corruption, laying bare how deep the fetid rot runs, and somehow, in the long run, guaranteeing that state capture never happens again.

Released on Tuesday night, Zondo’s latest product — on Bosasa’s exhaustive bribery and corruption scheme in cahoots with the ANC and the government — makes for crushing reading. This on account of the burden of navigating the material to reach the galling facts Zondo uncovers.

As journalist Dianne Hawker suggested in a pithy tweet on Tuesday night, Bosasa wrote the playbook on state capture. Inasmuch as this is so — and let’s not forget the dealings of former president Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane with their cronies the Guptas — the governing party was its co-author.

While the commission is a strictly inquisitorial process (in contrast with a prosecutorial one), we have been told it is worth the more than R1bn it has cost, deserving of several extensions obtained in the high court, and a just exercise in the public’s interest.

If, as communications theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964, the “medium is the message”, then what is one to make of the inquiry’s reports so far? How they have been released and even their formatting is an insult to readers. Curiously, Ramaphosa’s office takes hours to load them on websites.

With each submission, the final report grows, even if in dribs and drabs. The rising stack of sections now comprises nine volumes, running into thousands of pages. There is a wealth of material that is of interest to the public, witnesses (including whistle-blowers who put their lives at risk), implicated people and law enforcement agencies such as the SA Revenue Service and the National Prosecuting Authority.

SA citizens are justifiably curious as to Zondo’s determinations, and have a right to know them. Many of SA’s civil society organisations are eager to sift through the material, too. Yet elementary omissions and mistakes have been made: contents pages, for instance, lack hyperlinks (or shortcuts) to major sections, such as findings and recommendations. The keyword search function in digital PDF format does not work.

Then there are the presidency’s late-night releases. These only serve to aid and abet suspicions — justified or not — that there is growing reticence about releasing material that harms those in power. Such a suspicion only grows considering adverse findings about cabinet members such as minerals & energy minister Gwede Mantashe and ANC seniors like Nomvula Mokonyane, a former Gauteng premier who has also served in the national cabinet.

To so neglect such an important aspect of the inquiry’s work as readability at the climax of more than four years in existence is a snub to those involved in the long slog of labouring on the material.

These dismal shortcomings on the part of the commission and the presidency may buttress the notion that the inquiry is long past its best-by date. It might be that Ramaphosa, on top of a divided ANC and seeking re-election as party president later in 2022, now views it as a liability.

Debates about the process and whether it was worth it in terms of the country’s efforts to root out state capture will persist, but what is beyond doubt is that the drawn-out ending has been extremely unsatisfactory.

Perhaps Zondo can somehow rescue it with his final submission.

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