The tribunal aims to “join the dots” in the country’s story of state capture and plunder.
Organised by Open Secrets, Corruption Watch, Right2Know and the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI), the tribunal comprises five days of public hearings into corruption and economic crimes over the past 40 years.
Among the adjudicators of the tribunal are former justice of the Constitutional Court Zak Yacoob, former United Nations High Commissioner Navi Pillay, Dinga Sikwebu, Mandisa Dyantyi, Yasmin Sooka and Allyson Maynard Gibson.
Yacoob said while the tribunal had no power to prosecute, its findings would be submitted to government. If nothing was done, private prosecution would be considered where necessary, he said.
Yacoob was among the people who called for President Jacob Zuma to step down amid allegations of state capture by members of the Gupta family, who are reported to have close links to Zuma and his son, Duduzane.
Besides looking at recent allegations of state capture, the tribunal will be examining state corruption pre-dating democracy in South Africa.
People expecting to give evidence at the tribunal include the author of Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, Hennie van Vuuren.
His book, released last year, lifted the lid on the underhand dealings of the apartheid government, amounting to billions of rands, and how the international criminal conspiracy was set up to enable the apartheid state to buy guns and other weapons.
The book also revealed that Armscor, then state arms company now Denel, had 844 bank accounts in 196 banks in at least 27 countries, the majority in Europe.
Yacoob said: “We will be looking into operations of Armscor and the collaboration of government during apartheid of a whole range of improper transactions. It is very important for the public to know what really happened and it is very important for government to take steps against those who are implicated.”
The tribunal will also hear evidence from activist Zackie Achmat during a session on the Cost of the Arms Deal, where evidence will be heard about South Africa’s more recent multibillion-rand military acquisition projects.
Although the arms deal did come under scrutiny by the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, appointed by Zuma, the commission did not find any evidence that bribes had been paid to consultants, public officials or members of cabinet.
The People’s Tribunal is expected to relook some of this evidence.
“We will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of truth,” said Yacoob. He said people in South Africa had been “vulnerable victims of crime and corruption at the upper echelons of government” for too long.