From the whitewashing of the Phala Phala farm report by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and the public protector, to local and international banks being involved in rand manipulation, and Eskom’s inside job by cartels and political leaders, 2023 was a year of big lows in South Africa.
Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has ranked South Africa as the 70th most corrupt country from a list of 180 countries.
The Phala Phala scandal erupted in June last year when the country’s former spy boss Arthur Fraser filed a complaint with the police alleging that President Cyril Ramaphosa had concealed the 2020 theft of a huge haul of foreign currency from his Phala Phala farm.
In March, then acting public protector advocate Kholeka Gcaleka cleared Ramaphosa of any wrongdoing in the Phala Phala farm scandal, saying she had found no basis to conclude that Ramaphosa contravened the Executive Ethics Code.
In August, Ramaphosa received yet another reprieve when the governor of the SARB, Lesetja Kganyago, also cleared him of wrongdoing in contravening the Exchange Control Regulations in spite of damning evidence picked up by the section 89 independent panel report the previous year.
In May, political commentator Prince Mashele and ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba were involved in a lucrative R12.5-million book deal, but both parties were heavily criticised after it emerged that the book which was advertised as an unauthorised biography was in fact a sham as it was funded by the ActionSA leader himself.
The book, titled “The Outsider”, was eventually recalled from the shelves after the book publisher got wind of the agreement between the two parties.
In June, former public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released audio recording evidence allegedly implicating section 194 committee chairperson Richard Dyantyi, ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina and late Cabinet minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson in an attempt to solicit a bribe of R600 000 from her husband, David Skosana. The trio were cleared by Parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interest.
Another scandal that gripped the country this year was the revelations that Eskom has been brought to its knees by the involvement of criminal cartels, coal mafias, staff, contractors, crime syndicates, and high-profile politicians. This was also revealed by the controversial CEO André de Ruyter in his book “Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom”.
In September, the Hawks confirmed that they had arrested 611 people between April and June for crimes including fraud, money laundering and drug-related charges, with assets to the value of more than R6 billion being seized.
Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya said 203 people were arrested for fraud, 48 for money laundering, and 72 on drug and endangered species charges.
In addition, the Hawks confirmed having also seized various objects, including precious metals, diamonds, endangered species, vehicles, cash, firearms, ammunition, counterfeit goods, explosives and electronic devices worth R6.1bn.
In October, following a busy year, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) confirmed that it had submitted 21 investigation reports to the Presidency under published proclamations, preventing financial losses to the value of R2.1bn.
Head of the SIU, advocate Andy Mothibi, told Parliament that the submissions were in relation to corruption, maladministration, and malpractice in the affairs of various state institutions.
In November, the country was jolted into disbelief by Thuja Capital CEO Mthunzi Mdwaba, who accused three Cabinet ministers, Thulas Nxesi, Dr Blade Nzimande, and Enoch Godongwana, of attempting to solicit a R500m bribe from him in order to approve a jobs scheme linked to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). However, these ministers have since denied these allegations against them.
November was also a busy month after Standard Chartered Bank became the latest commercial bank that admitted to wrongdoing and agreed to pay a multimillion-rand penalty of to the Competition Commission for its role in conspiring to rig trades involving the US dollar-rand currency pairing.
The Competition Commission announced that it had entered into a settlement agreement with Standard Chartered, which “admitted liability” and agreed to pay an administrative penalty of almost R43m.
Media reports revealed that the country lost R1 trillion a day due to the effects of this practice, while calls for the banks to be criminally charged grew.