While a successful conviction of Jacob Zuma will be the "right outcome for the country", South Africa will need a much deeper reckoning with the corruption of the past decade and beyond, and perhaps new institutions to make sure it never happens again, former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein has told HuffPost.
The former ANC parliamentarian, who served as an MP for more than seven years and is now CEO of Corruption Watch U.K., is among the 207 state witnesses expected to testify in the Zuma corruption case – relating to the infamous 1990s arms deal – due to begin on Friday.
Since resigning in protest when the public accounts committee was prohibited from investigating it, Feinstein has reiterated the grand corruption of the deal – implicating state leaders from Zuma and Thabo Mbeki to France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac – was swept under the rug.
Zuma facing the legal consequences of his alleged theft, Feinstein says, would as a result be hugely significant. A "fresh start" for the country, however, would require much greater socioeconomic, political and institutional transformation and a thorough a reckoning with the past, including the alleged corruption of the arms deal.
"I actually think what the country needs after the [past] ten years, and even the Mbeki years, is some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on corruption," he said.
"What I'd do is have that reckoning where people are encouraged to come forward and reveal everything that has happened, so long as they understand they must return ill-gotten gains so that even if nobody goes to jail, none can continue to benefit from the money."
'Corruption continuities and truth-telling'
The People's Tribunal on Economic Crimes in South Africa, at which Feinstein presented in February, may just have been the start of such a "truth-telling" initiative.
Orchestrated by civil society groups led by Open Secrets, the tribunal sought not only to reopen the unsolved business (and expose the untold secrets) of the notorious arms deal, but also to draw links between apartheid-era and contemporary grand corruption and "state capture".
In its findings, the tribunal said the abysmal failure to properly investigate and prosecute apartheid-era crimes set the scene for the "corrupt" R30-billion (in 1999 value) arms deal to unfold. Former Constitutional Court justice and panel chair Zac Yacoob said the panel found the purpose of the arms deal was to facilitate money for corrupt political and businesspeople, in opposition to its stated purpose.
A new and rigorous investigation would need to follow in light of a what was called a "whitewashed" Seriti Commission by others giving evidence at the Tribunal.
Building a new house
Properly cleaning out the closet, and hanging decades of biganyana skeletons out for public viewing, however, should be succeeded by "a change in institutional arrangements that would see a new anti-corruption agency emerge," he said.
While South Africa "on paper has a good financial oversight infrastructure", he said, "good legislation [like the Public Finance Management Act] can ultimately be ignored". Existing institutions designed to ensure good governance and guard public money have shown they can be effective, he said, but what is lacking is "one overarching anti-corruption entity that is entirely independent of government".
"[This] would need to have protected funding, significant Constitutional powers, be able to investigate and make public findings on anybody alleged to be engaged in corruption ... whether a president or ordinary citizen ... as well as recommend prosecution," he said.
New radical transparency (in and outside the ANC)
"In addition to designing and empowering a new agency fit for purpose, it's crucial that the political will to fight abuse of public funds and trust is built and sustained," he said.
Whether the so-called 'new dawn' promised by President Cyril Ramaphosa is indicative of the emergence of new political will to fight corruption, or is merely politically convenient rhetoric, is still unclear, Feinstein added.
What is clear, however, is that within the ANC – of which Feinstein was a part for many years – there is "deference to the leader" that threatens the goal of radical transparency in governance.
"The leader has, for what is supposed to be a collective movement, inordinate soft [and hard] power, in that the attitudes and behaviour of the leader strongly influences behaviour below and more broadly in society," he said.
Feinstein explained that Zuma and Mbeki were willing to use fighting corruption as a political tool for their own internal battles within the ANC.
"Mbeki was very happy for them to go after Schabir Shaik and Jacob Zuma, but pretty much told them not to touch Joe Modise and others," he said.
"To ensure corruption isn't used as a political tool, we need to ensure our institutions are robust enough... [which is] why I think an independent anti-corruption commission or agency would be a positive development across the board," he said.