President Cyril Ramaphosa has thanked the media for exposing state capture and revealed that he had not realised the extent to which corruption had corroded government until the so-called Gupta emails were published.
Ramaphosa was addressing an informal gathering with the South African National Editors Forum at his parliamentary offices on Thursday evening.
In his opening remarks‚ he spoke about the important role played by the media in a constitutional democracy such as ours.
“Recently you played a really good and gallant role in unravelling quite a lot of horrible things that had been happening in the country; the corruption‚ the way that it had embedded itself in the body politic of our country and the government‚” he said.
“So you do play an important role and I recognise that and value that and we applaud it and we want to encourage you to continuing playing the role.”
Ramaphosa spoke about how in the past three months the administration he leads had taken steps to stem the tide of corrupt activities‚ including repositioning a number of institutions and changing personnel. However‚ he acknowledged that the job was far from done.
“It will take some time to recalibrate and realign everything so that we can return to building good governance process. What we can say is that this administration is determined to root out corruption.”
Ramaphosa said his administration was determined to ensure that those who had been involved in corrupt activities are brought to book‚ that they are held accountable for their actions which harmed not only the image of the country but dented efforts to improve lives of the people.
When questioned on why government didn’t act to stop state capture early on when the evidence of wrongdoing first emerged instead of waiting until the phenomenon had damaged the country‚ he said: “You guys [media] were already raising a number of issues on a piecemeal basis … but when you finally prized the whole thing wide open with the Gupta emails‚ I think it became patently clear to everyone that we were dealing with a much bigger problem than we had ever imagined.”
Ramaphosa said when media reports first emerged on state-owned entities like Eskom‚ they thought those were isolated incidents that could be addressed by the investigative authorities “[where] maybe it’s just a wheel nut that has gone loose”.
“But when the Gupta emails came out it became clear that the wheels have actually come off completely‚” he said.
“Could I have done anything differently? Possibly‚ but we are where we are now‚ where we are all able to take action. We have a commission that is going to look at this‚ let’s look forward to all that.”
Ramaphosa said he continued to see this as a new period in the country‚ which he and others have called “a new dawn”. He said it brought a new mood and people knew deep in their hearts and minds that “we have a new situation and are filled with a great deal of enthusiasm of things being different and changing from what we have just gone through”.
He described the recent past as “not like us” and not the type of South Africa people want.
“You may well have many questions of why did it happen and why was it allowed to happen but the fact of the matter is that we have gone through a period that we want to put behind us‚” he said.
“Obviously‚ as we all know‚ it manifested itself through the capturing of our state‚ it also manifested itself in corruption entrenching itself in a number of institutions in our country and what we promised when we came into office is that we are going to foster a clean government approach to doing things because our people deserve that and our people expect that one would have a clean government. We have set out to deal with that and to put things right.”