JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s intelligence agency became weakened by corruption under ex-president Jacob Zuma, his successor Cyril Ramaphosa said Thursday, weeks after unprecedented unrest overwhelmed the police and prompted deployment of the military.
Ramaphosa told a judicial panel probing the plunder of state assets under Zuma: “We have been through a period of state capture that really debilitated a number of state institutions.”
The State Security Agency (SSA) “was one of the agencies that was compromised,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s testimony comes on the heels of riots and looting last month sparked by the jailing of Zuma — an episode that triggered accusations of sabotage and failures by South Africa’s intelligence chiefs.
Ramaphosa was deputy president for four years under Zuma’s tenure before succeeding him in 2018.
It was during Zuma’s nine-year rule that the state suffered some of its worst graft — known here as state capture — driven mainly by a migrant Indian family, the Guptas, who were handed lucrative government contracts and influenced cabinet appointments.
“By weakening our security forces and law enforcement agencies, the actions associated with state capture placed the security and integrity of our country at risk,” Ramaphosa said as he concluded two long days of testimony.
On Wednesday he said he was in the dark about much of the corrupt dealings.
But he said he chose not to speak out about the graft as he could have been fired, arguing that it was more effective to fight from within.
Listen: From the inquiry for Voice of America’s Daybreak Africa
Zuma began serving a 15-month jail term last month for bucking a court order to testify before the same anti-corruption inquiry.
Protests by diehard Zuma supporters snowballed into violent unrest and the ransacking of shopping malls and warehouses in two provinces, dealing a crippling blow to South Africa’s economy and attractivity to investors.
At the time of the unrest, Ramaphosa called the riots an attempted insurrection.
This month, he moved the SSA into the office of the presidency, saying he wanted to keep a closer eye on the institution and root out bad actors.
“We just went into an abyss and we are clawing our way back to the top, and in doing so we are determined to succeed and we will succeed,” Ramaphosa said on Thursday.
A 2017 book authored by journalist Jacques Pauw detailed how the SSA used to transfer large sums of money into the bank accounts of fake spies.
At the end of his testimony, Ramaphosa told reporters that his appearing before the investigators was “important to demonstrate to all in… our country that even a head of state can be subjected to this form of interrogation so that the truth can come”.
The inquiry, which has held over 400 hearings, is set to conclude at the end of September.