Zuma escapes UK anti-corruption sanctions but stench follows him

Wednesday May 05 2021
Jacob Zuma.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma appears before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that is probing wide-ranging allegations of corruption in government and state-owned companies in Johannesburg, on July 19, 2019. PHOTO | MIKE HUTCHINGS | AFP


When the UK Foreign Office announced, last week, sanctions imposed on the Gupta brothers under the new Global Anti-Corruption regime; there were questions on just how more of their alleged South African associates were not included in the measures.

Only local businessman Salim Essa was affected and together with Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, they were among 22 individuals from six countries around the world placed under sanctions for being involved in “notorious corruption cases.”

They will be prohibited from channelling their money through UK banks, have their bank accounts and assets in the UK frozen while also being banned from entering that territory.

The Gupta brothers are said to have committed “serious corruption” and were “at the heart of a long-running process of corruption in South Africa which caused significant damage to its economy.”

When the Foreign Office stated the sanctions are targeting “corrupt individuals and their enablers,” some figures believed to have been key to the Guptas’ alleged corrupt activities in South Africa were never mentioned.

Jacob Zuma


Central to the Indian-born brothers' alleged control of the South African government and looting of state-owned enterprises was former President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma’s association with the Guptas even led to his downfall amid the state capture scandal which created grounds for the establishment of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.

The Commission is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and is investigating allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud in the public sector.

An estimated $84 billion in public funds is believed to have been extracted from South Africa by key patronage networks between 2011 and 2017.

The Gupta brothers are alleged to have wielded unlimited influence on cabinet selection as well as appointments to boards of state-owned enterprises.

Although the Guptas have denied having a corrupt relationship with Mr Zuma, the former President’s name has prominently been mentioned by over 200 witnesses presenting evidence before the Commission, heavily linking him to the Indian family.


Damning allegations have also been heard by the Commission involving some former cabinet ministers during the Zuma administration as well as top officials of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Mr Zuma has also denied any wrongdoing but is now refusing to appear before the Commission he established.

The Commission is now seeking the Constitutional Court to jail Mr Zuma for two years for contempt and defying its order to appear before Justice Zondo.

President Cyril Ramaphosa appeared before the Zondo Commission last week, to kick-start the first of the four days he is expected to be interviewed.

“I was talking to a fellow head of state and I said I would be appearing before the Commission and he said ‘Argh! How can you do that?’ and I said ‘this is how our democracy works,’” Ramaphosa told Justice Zondo.

“State capture took place under our watch as the ruling party. It involved some members and leaders of our organisation [ANC].

“More reports began to surface [about the] capture of state enterprises and the undue influence of the Gupta family in executive positions and appointments. The issue of state capture became increasingly a subject of discussion.

“I should, however, say that the vast majority of ANC members and leaders are vehemently opposed to corruption in all its manifestations.  

“We are determined and we undertake to work alongside all South Africans to ensure that the era of state capture is relegated to history and that the excesses that took place may never ever occur in our country.”


Having South Africans being slapped with sanctions is a new phenomenon.

The country has been vocal against sanctions slapped on individuals in neighbouring Zimbabwe where President Emmerson Mnangagwa leads a list of those, including companies, who are under sanctions from the UK, European Union and US’ punitive measures.

The UK foreign office says it “will continue to use a range of means to tackle serious corruption around the world, including funding the International Corruption Unit in the National Crime Agency.” They could be expected to also cast their net wider in South Africa.

That would likely see some political heavyweights being targeted for their alleged links with the Guptas and accused of a corrupt relationship with the Indian brothers.

In announcing the sanctions on the Guptas and others, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab noted that, “Corruption has a corrosive effect as it slows development, drains the wealth of poorer nations and keeps their people trapped in poverty. It poisons the well of democracy.

“The individuals we have sanctioned today have been involved in some of the most notorious corruption cases around the world. Global Britain is standing up for democracy, good governance and the rule of law. We are saying to those involved in serious corruption: we will not tolerate you or your dirty money in our country.”

While Mr Zuma and some cabinet ministers who served under him might have survived the sanctions, for now, it is to be seen who will be affected in South Africa in the future.