Former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi takes the stand at the state capture inquiry on January 22 2019. Picture: ALON SKUY
Former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi takes the stand at the state capture inquiry on January 22 2019. Picture: ALON SKUY

The state capture commission hearings resumed with a bang last month, when former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi laid bare the modus operandi of the facilities management company in its interactions with the state. (Bosasa is now known as African Global Operations.)

Government officials, politicians, unionists and even those in the higher echelons of the National Prosecuting Authority were outed for allegedly taking bribes in exchange for lucrative government contracts or for blocking investigations into dodgy dealings.

It was a new tack in what had become a Gupta-centric inquiry. For the first time, the commission heard evidence unrelated to the family that, along with former president Jacob Zuma, has been at the heart of state capture claims. Instead, South Africans learnt how a different well-known family — that of Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson — seemed to have the state in its clutches. The common thread, it would seem, is that wealthy families with big business interests in SA have wielded extensive power over the ANC.

The timing of Agrizzi’s testimony could not have come at a worse time for the ruling party, given that SA is gearing up for its most crucial elections since 1994. And the evidence presented so far may prove problematic for the clean-up campaign instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Perceptions play a big role in politics, and winning national elections requires not only the votes of committed party members — those who offer their support regardless — but also the votes of people who are undecided or apathetic. So South Africans may hope to see evidence of Ramaphosa’s stated commitment to clean governance in the ANC lists — the party members who will get seats in the national and provincial legislatures, based on voter support.

The level of corruption in the ANC is almost democratised across factions
Ralph Matshekga

Already, the process of compiling the lists is taking longer than expected.

The party’s national list conference was originally set for December but was only held last month, ahead of its manifesto launch. But that conference simply adopted the guidelines for candidacy.

The guidelines, which are not new, stipulate that candidates must "enhance the integrity of the ANC", have no history of ill-discipline or corruption, no criminal record, no history of involvement in fostering division and conflict, and must not have breached the ANC code of conduct.

ANC acting national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa says potential candidates are now being vetted by the national list committee, in accordance with those guidelines.

Once candidates have been vetted, the committee will put their names forward to the party’s national executive committee, which will make the final decision. But it’s not clear when this is likely to happen.

So the question is whether those implicated at the state capture inquiry will be eligible for inclusion in the lists, and thus for seats in the legislatures.

So far, evidence at the commission has implicated ANC leaders from across the factional divide. And Ramaphosa himself has been linked to Bosasa through a donation to his campaign for ANC president, though he claims he had not been aware that Watson was behind it. There are also reports of his son Andile doing business with Bosasa.

An ANC insider says he wonders who will be responsible for vetting the candidates for the lists, because "factional interests [will be at play] in vetting their peers".

What it means

The scale of corruption allegations means the ANC can’t purge its electoral lists of suspect members

The ANC has previously said the claims made at the state capture inquiry are allegations, and that witnesses have to be cross-examined to determine their veracity.

But Kodwa told FM sister publication Business Day this week that the ANC wants law enforcement agencies to act if there is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing instead of waiting for an outcome from the commission.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says the ANC has no option but to take a "soft stance" when finalising its election lists: it cannot exclude people based on allegations of impropriety, he says, because of how widespread the problem is.

"This shows you the level of corruption in the ANC is almost democratised across factions. We used to have fantasies that it’s only the Zuma people — the usual suspects of corruption — but now we’ve been shocked because it’s on either side." To use allegations of corruption as grounds for exclusion, he says, "would mean you have to get rid of half of the ANC … How practical is that?"

Mathekga says Ramaphosa’s hands are tied. If anything, he will have to rely on opposition parties going to the courts to rid the party of implicated politicians. Done this way, he would not have to make the unpalatable decisions himself.

Meanwhile, if those implicated in the wholesale capture of the state are put forward for seats in the legislature — and so become eligible for seats on the executive — the party may suffer at the polls.