Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo arrives for proceedings on the first day of the state capture inquiry in Parktown, Johannesburg. Picture: ALON SKUY
Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo arrives for proceedings on the first day of the state capture inquiry in Parktown, Johannesburg. Picture: ALON SKUY

In Johannesburg the stage has been set for a dramatic opening to the long-awaited state-capture inquiry that finally started on Monday.

Those implicated in the testimony expected in the first round of hearings are lawyered up with senior counsel. Jacob Zuma and one of his Gupta friends, Ajay, are the most prominent of those who have been issued with notices that they have been implicated.

The villains and heroes of state capture are finally going to appear before a hearing which, it is hoped, will find an answer to the allegations of how a state came to be sold to a private family.

Fire and brimstone testimonies are expected. The commission has, after all, indicated that former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor are to be among the first witnesses.

The drama has so far not developed yet. On Monday deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo solemnly called on South Africans to come forward with information. The amount of submissions of information about state capture has been "disappointing". The judge also raised issue with the State Security Agency and the volume levels in the commission.

What was most clear-cut from the first two days of the inquiry is that the commission will be a long and hard slog that could take up to two years, if Zondo’s estimations are correct.

And the devil will lie in the detail, which will be scrutinised by the lawyers who will apply to cross-examine witnesses.

The terms of reference are detailed and specific, with the head of the commission’s legal team, Paul Pretorius, making it clear that the team will not push a specific line, but will rather determine veracity.

Thandi Norman SC, while detailing the myriad reports already done on state capture, told the commission more than 122 boxes of information are still being paginated — and this even after the original timeframe of the commission has technically lapsed.

The first witness was the National Treasury’s acting chief procurement officer, Willie Mathebula, who could have been questioned on investigations ordered by his establishment. Instead he told, in painstaking detail, what the procurement legislation entails and how the legislation and regulations all work together.

His testimony is said to be a yardstick for what should have been done, and will be used to illustrate best practice ahead of the testimonies that will follow regarding alleged irregularities. It was necessary testimony to set the stage, but far from the cathartic release impatient South Africans had been hoping for. The catharsis could be long in coming.

If the commission is not sidetracked, it could find out whether the former president surrendered his constitutional powers to an immigrant family, and if he did, why.

It will also find — as Pretorius put it in his opening address — whether there had been "a deliberate attempt to weaken democratic processes and to shift political decision-making away from constitutional bodies".

Those and other questions, it is hoped, will be answered one day, but don’t expect anything soon. The commission’s planning already runs into 2019.