The year that was, was a watershed for South African democracy.
Intractable problems remain: inequality, joblessness, land hunger, a stagnant economy, burgeoning public debt. But after a decade, the Zupta hold has been broken and state capture is on the retreat.
Unfolding events – Jacob Zuma’s resignation in February, a new president and “compromise” cabinet, the resignation of the finance and home affairs ministers, the appointment of the Zondo, Nugent and Mpati commissions – have demonstrated again how valuable an independent media is to democracy.
These are some highlights of our year as reporters:
The Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture began public hearings in August. For the first time, South Africans heard directly from officials and politicians about the inner workings of state capture.
In September, human rights lawyer Brian Currin, who had advised the two whistleblowers behind the leaked #GuptaLeaks emails, appeared before the commission.
He testified that the whistleblowers, known as Stan and John, remained concerned for their and their families’ safety and could not appear before the inquiry.
“I believe the country – the state and the nation – owes a huge debt to these two people. If it had not been for them I wonder if this commission would be sitting today,” Currin said.
South Africans also owe a debt of gratitude to other, less celebrated whistleblowers – one who paid with his life. In an award-winning story, our Tabelo Timse described the ordeal of two men who had blown the whistle on the Gupta Estina dairy scandal.
More Gupta plunder: We unravelled further strands of the Guptas’ looting spree. We exposed an international money laundering machine; told more about software multinational SAP’s collusion with the family; explained how large locomotive procurements were interfered with, rigged and the final price inflated by billions; and how the Guptas bought themselves an auditing firm as a front, using public money.
Money for jam: In a series of articles, we showed how the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the fund manager for public servants’ pensions and a dominant player in the economy, had become subject to capture by a different set of interests.
We highlighted unusual attempted and actual placements worth billions with companies co-owned by newspaper proprietor Iqbal Survé; followed up on earlier exposés regarding the PIC’s strange investment with a politically-connected Nigerian-American oilman; and showed how the PIC had paid an R18.5-million “referral fee” into an offshore account after then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s son and his business partner had introduced it to a deal in Mozambique.
These investments are now all being looked at by the Mpati Commission of Inquiry into the PIC.
Scammed: Following an in-depth investigation we laid bare how former Steinhoff chief executive Markus Jooste and his inner circle had enriched themselves via self-dealing, pulling down the pillars on which ordinary investors’ wealth had rested.
Landless: For black South Africans, dispossession is not something lost in the mists of history: it is a wound within living memory – and for the majority who are poor, it remains a constant threat. We highlighted the cost to communities whose homes have been demolished to make way for luxury urban real estate developments.
Sinking funds, sunk: We published evidence of a R30-million conflict of interest for Geoff Makhubo, the chair of the ANC’s powerful Johannesburg region and a prospective mayoral candidate. His company was paid this money by Regiments, the financial advisory firm which managed the City of Johannesburg “sinking fund” – even after Makhubo became the mayoral committee member responsible for the contract.
What the EFF: Focusing on new metro coalition politics, we highlighted allegedly slow progress to tackle mismanagement and dodgy contracts at the Johannesburg Roads Agency and revealed how, before winning a R1-billion vehicle fleet deal from the City of Johannesburg, a firm made payments to a company whose account was used for the benefit of Julius Malema and the EFF.