November 21, 2019
Arrest of Bongani Bongo of ANC hailed as ‘first shots in fight against corrupt public officials’
A power station owned by Eskom. Bongani Bongo is accused of offering bribes to derail a parliamentary inquiry into corruption at the South African state power utility. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Jason Burke in Johannesburg | The Guardian
An ANC MP and former minister has appeared in court in South Africa on charges of corruption in a move hailed by increasingly impatient anti-graft campaigners.
Bongani Bongo, a representative from the ruling African National Congress who was security minister under the former president Jacob Zuma, has been accused of offering bribes to derail a parliamentary inquiry into corruption at the state power utility Eskom, a police spokesman said.
Bongo allegedly asked the inquiry’s evidence leader to go on sick leave in 2017 to frustrate its progress in return for an “open cheque”. He denies the charges.
Bongo, who was sacked as a minister last year but still chairs parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs, appeared in court in Cape Town. He was released on bail of 5,000 rand (£262), pending a further hearing next year.
The arrest has been hailed as the “first shots in the fight against corrupt public officials”.
“Bongo’s arrest to face charges of bribery is perhaps an indication of the slow but steady circling by law enforcement agencies of the cast of thousands of public officials who aided and abetted state capture … As an early Christmas present, it should offer South Africans a small measure of cheer,” the columnist Marianne Thamm wrote in the Daily Maverick news website.
The term “state capture” refers to the alleged influence exerted by corrupt networks of businessmen and others over members of the government and bureaucracy during Zuma’s nine-year rule.
Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 amid widespread scandals and was succeeded by Cyril Ramaphosa, who moved swiftly to remove many ministers seen as tainted.
Ramaphosa has struggled to challenge corrupt networks within the South African government, the ANC and institutions since taking power.
In a statement, the ANC’s chief whip Pemmy Majodina said the party’s parliamentary caucus had no comment on the allegations against Bongo “as we want to allow the law to take its course”.
South Africa faces massive economic problems, with unemployment at about 30% and low growth.
Eskom, Africa’s biggest public utility, relies largely on ageing, heavily polluting coal-fired power stations but does not generate enough cash to meet even its debt servicing costs.
Project delays and cost overruns at new plants have contributed to Eskom’s debt ballooning to 440bn rand (£23bn).
Earlier this year South Africa endured rolling power cuts that have cut economic growth and deterred investors.
The state-owned South African Airways has been hit by a week-long strike, after announcing it wants to cut jobs as part of a turnaround plan. The company has racked up losses of more than 28bn rand over the past 13 years and planned to cut almost 20% of its staff.
Earlier this week, Peter Hain, the British peer and former Labour minister, told a judicial inquiry in South Africa that corruption under Zuma was enabled by international banks, corporations and governments which should now seek to recover the loot they helped launder.