Our take: What can a state do with 50 billion?

49,157,323,233.68. Quite a tongue twister, right? That’s 50 billion – in this case, rands the Gupta family allegedly stole from South African taxpayers to carry out its elaborate and abhorrent state capture project. This, according to one estimation.

The eye-watering figure was revealed at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture this week, where Paul Holden, who runs the NGO Shadow World Investigations alongside former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, told the commission that with investigations still underway, this figure does not “even begin to quantify the harm and loss suffered by the state”.

Some notable findings:

  • The Guptas allegedly stole R49 billion.
  • Transnet was responsible for at least 81.59% – about R40 billion of the total R49 billion – of state capture spending. 
  • Eskom accounted for a further 14.19%, mostly related to coal supply issues.
  • Capture seemed to follow Brian Molefe wherever he went. He was CEO of both Eskom and Transnet at some point.
  • The Free State provincial government spent R441 million on Gupta contracts. 
  • The Guptas allegedly used no fewer than 14 companies as vehicles to enable state capture. 
  • Goods and services provided by the Guptas were either of really poor quality or were overpriced, both apparently in an attempt to drain the fiscus to their benefit. 

As Holden was reading out these figures, a visibly defeated Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the commission, said “I’m just digesting”. Us too, Zondo, us too – and it’s giving us indigestion. 

We did some calculations and found that R50 billion could pay for the tertiary education of nearly 800 000 students, if the average fee, according to the latest figures, is R64 200 in the first year. 

Former cabinet minister Malusi Gigaba’s estranged wife, Norma Mngoma, also delivered her final testimony. There was nothing majorly new, but the talk of Gigaba’s 200 designer suits was entertaining. We recommend Ferial Haffajee’s take on this one here, which also serves as a great tale of Gigaba’s fall from grace. 

The commission is finally drawing to a close and will have to conclude at the end of June. President Cyril Ramaphosa is the biggest witness left, set to testify in his capacity as former deputy president. The commission has been running since 2018. By December 2020, Zondo said it had spent about R800 million. At least this time state money is being used for good reason. South Africa has a prized democracy, and thanks to our solid institutions like the commission of inquiry and the ConCourt, we can continue to build and become better.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 15 April 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates