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South Africa's Ramaphosa says corruption has damaged country

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South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa takes off his face mask as he appears on behalf of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Ramaphosa is compelled to answer under oath questions about his oversight role and alleged participation in state capture during his predecessor's tenure. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)

JOHANNESBURG – Rampant corruption has seriously damaged South Africa's economy and people's trust in the government, President Cyril Ramaphosa testified Wednesday at a judicial inquiry into graft in the county.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the commission investigating “state capture,” the term for the corruption under former President Jacob Zuma's tenure in which his associates in the Gupta family allegedly won control of the much of the state and its finances.

“State capture and corruption have taken a great toll on our society and indeed on our economy as well,” Ramaphosa said. “They have eroded the values of our constitution and undermines the rule of law. If allowed to continue they would threaten the achievement of growth, development and transformation of our country.”

Ramaphosa spoke at the commission to investigate corruption during Zuma's time as president from 2009 until 2018, when he was forced out of office by widespread allegations of graft. The inquiry is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The commission has already heard damning testimony from top officials and former Cabinet ministers that Zuma allowed the Gupta family to influence the appointments of Cabinet ministers and the heads of state-owned enterprises in order to win lucrative state contracts.

Zuma has refused to testify before the commission in defiance of court orders for him to do so. Zuma risks being sent to jail for contempt of court. He also is charged with corruption in the state purchase of arms.

Ramaphosa was Zuma's deputy president from 2014 until 2018 when he succeeded Zuma.

During his testimony, Ramaphosa admitted that “a lot had gone terribly wrong” in the country while Zuma was president as the leader of the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela that has ruled South Africa since the end of the racist system of apartheid in 1994.

“State capture took place under our watch,” said Ramaphosa, who became the ANC's leader vowing to root out corruption. He said the graft was “hidden and masked” and is only now being exposed in detail.

Ramaposa's first day of testimony comes a few days after the British government imposed sanctions on members of the Gupta family for evidence of their involvement in corruption in South Africa. The U.S. similar sanctions on Gupta family members last year.

Ramaphosa will continue his evidence on Thursday, where he is expected to face questions about political funding for his 2017 presidential campaign.