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15.07.2019 South Africa

S.Africa's Zuma to take centre stage at graft inquiry

By Ben Sheppard
Former South African president Jacob Zuma is accused of fostering a culture of corruption during a nine-year reign before he was ousted in 2018, but denies all wrongdoing.  By Themba Hadebe (POOL/AFP)
JUL 15, 2019 SOUTH AFRICA
Former South African president Jacob Zuma is accused of fostering a culture of corruption during a nine-year reign before he was ousted in 2018, but denies all wrongdoing. By Themba Hadebe (POOL/AFP)

Former South African president Jacob Zuma is due Monday to testify at a judicial inquiry where he faces tough questioning over allegations that he oversaw systematic looting of state funds while in power.

Zuma struck a characteristically relaxed tone ahead of his televised appearance, which could last for five days, tweeting a video on Sunday of himself dancing and singing "Zuma must fall" before laughing heartily.

"The commission asked me to come to testify and put forward any information that I might have," he told reporters last week. "We will see how things pan out, but I am going there."

The former president is accused of fostering a culture of corruption during a nine-year reign before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling ANC party and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma's supporters and opponents are expected to gather for noisy rallies outside the inquiry commission venue, while 200 members of the public are to attend the hearing on a first-come, first-served basis.

Zuma, 77, is not legally required to appear at the inquiry into the so-called "State Capture" scandal, and it is unclear if he will cooperate with any cross-examination.

He has denied all wrongdoing and dismissed the concept of "state capture", while his lawyers have described the inquiry as an attempt to "ambush and humiliate" him.

His request to see questions in advance was denied by the inquiry commission, which invited him to appear "to give his side of the story" after other witnesses gave damning evidence against him.

Led by judge Raymond Zondo, the probe is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the wealthy Gupta family and state-owned companies.

Bribes, cakes and death threats

According to Angelo Agrizzi, one of the inquiry witness, Zuma allegedly accepted a monthly $2,200 bribe delivered in luxury bags from a contracting firm that was trying to evade police investigation.

The money was in theory for his charity foundation.

Agrizzi said his company also organised free parties, bulk alcohol supplies and birthday cakes to keep favour with Zuma's associates.

Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was sacked by Zuma in 2015, testified that Zuma pushed policies on nuclear power and aviation that were designed to benefit the Gupta family.

The Gupta brothers are accused of fraudulently profiting from government contracts including energy and transport deals under Zuma.

The family owned a uranium mine, which would have seen profits soar from the nuclear deal, as well as a portfolio of mining, technology and media companies.

They allegedly held such sway over Zuma that they were able to select some of his cabinet ministers.

Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas told the inquiry that the Guptas offered him the finance minister's job and even threatened to kill him after he refused to accept a $40 million bribe.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma was forced to set up an inquiry into allegations of graft shortly before he left office.  By Themba Hadebe (POOL/AFP) Former South African president Jacob Zuma was forced to set up an inquiry into allegations of graft shortly before he left office. By Themba Hadebe (POOL/AFP)

Zuma was forced to set up the inquiry in January 2018, shortly before he left office, after failing in a legal battle to overturn the instructions of the country's ethics ombudsman.

Sitting in central Johannesburg, it has heard from scores of witnesses over 130 days in session since last year.

Zuma has separately been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers -- Ajay, Atul and Rajesh -- have left South Africa and are now based in Dubai. They also deny any wrong-doing.

Eager to distance himself from the Zuma era, Ramaphosa has declared his presidency as a "new dawn" for the country and described the inquiry as a "very painful process".

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