South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has conceded for the first time that divisions within the ruling African National Congress prevented appropriate action against the influential Gupta family from India for their alleged involvement in massive state capture.
While appearing before the State Capture Commission on Thursday as the deputy president and president of South Africa, Ramaphosa, while referring to the Gupta family, said key people were strategically placed and that played a role in fully capturing the state.
"They had ensconced themselves quite neatly into the various structures. They had acceptance; they had approval, and they had access; so yes, the red flag having been raised, it was not heeded. We should say that," Ramaphosa said, referring to the relationship between former president Jacob Zuma and the three Gupta brothers accused of siphoning billions of rands from state entities and provincial governments.
Ramaphosa admitted before the Commission that there had been attempts by some party members to caution the African National Congress (ANC) about the relationship.
"Yes, I think a red flag was raised and the level of alertness should have been there. I think that with the Gupta family, we were blind-sighted by the fact that this family were friends to the ultimate leader of our party.
"But there were occasions when for instance Transport Minister Fikile (Mbalula) mentioned it in the National Executive Committee (of the ANC).
Ramaphosa lauded Mbalula for being ‘brave' to raise at that level the fact that the Guptas had informed him months before his appointment that this was imminent, long before Zuma actually made the appointment.
Several other former ministers have also testified at the Commission about similar situations.
Ramaphosa also commented on the infamous landing of a planeload of guests from India for the lavish wedding of a family member at a national key point.
"When the plane landed at air force Waterkloof base, the then Secretary-General (Gwede Mantashe) spoke out against this almost immediately and when I had the occasion when the Gupta brothers came to ANC headquarters to discuss this and other matters with us, I was one who specifically raised this and said that this should never have happened as it put our president, who is your friend, in great difficulty," Ramaphosa said.
"There was contestation in the party about how we deal with these matters -- the factionalism, the division in the party and how you react to acts of corruption," he added.
The Commission has been hearing evidence about how the Gupta brothers also influenced key top positions at institutions such as national electricity supplier Eskom and transport authority Transnet, which are now in dire straits following years of looting.
The Guptas are currently believed to be in self-exile in Dubai, with South African authorities having started extradition proceedings for them to be returned to face criminal charges.
The three Gupta brothers -- Ajay, Atul and Rajesh -- and their wives and children came to South Africa from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in the 1990s as democracy dawned with the release of Nelson Mandela to grow their business empire.
From a humble shoe store at a shopping centre, they established a multi-million rand empire in information technology, media and mining, much of it through what is being uncovered now as having been done through irregular activities using their closeness to Zuma.
Zuma last month started serving a 15-month prison sentence after the country's apex Constitutional Court found him guilty of contempt of court for his repeated failure to return to the Commission, from which he walked out during a hearing last year.
A separate criminal case against Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales relating to alleged kickbacks paid to Zuma was again postponed on Tuesday after Zuma was admitted to the hospital last Friday for an undisclosed illness.
The matter has been going on for over a decade now, with repeated delays as Zuma, who has denied all the charges, changed lawyers several times and also called for prosecutors to recuse themselves because of alleged bias.
Image: Cyril Ramaphosa addresses MPs after being elected president of South Africa in parliament in Cape Town. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters