State capture commission Day 1: Everything you need to know

The much-anticipated judicial commission of inquiry into state capture commenced its public activities on Monday.

Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo cut a stoic figure at the front of the massive conference hall in Parktown as the opening addresses were delivered and the legal teams placed themselves on record.

The commission has 19 months left within which to complete the task of shining a light into the dark recesses of state corruption networks.

This is what you need to know:

Not much action…yet

No witnesses were called. The bulk of the day consisted of the inquiry's legal head, advocate Paul Pretorius, framing the work of the commission and putting it into the proper legal context.

Lots of reading ahead

Commissioner advocate Thandi Norman spent the afternoon reading an inventory of various source documents into the record. This included the Public Protector's State of Capture report, as well as various investigative and audit reports.

Lawyering up

Former president Jacob Zuma, capture don Ajay Gupta, fixer Fana Hlongwane, Zuma loyalist and ex-Presidency official Lakela Kaunda and Gupta enabler Lynne Brown have all recruited serious legal muscle. Mike Hellens, Muzi Sikhakhane and Jaap Cilliers don't come cheap, nor have they come as friends of the inquiry.

Were there any surprises on day one? 

It is quite significant that Kaunda's name has sprung up. It seems that a statement was tabled at the commission which might implicate her arranging meetings for the Guptas with prominent politicians. She was chief operating officer in the Presidency under Zuma.

Insulating the inquiry from criticism

Pretorius delivered a carefully crafted opening statement, drawing on the Constitution and relevant laws to locate the inquiry squarely in a constitutional legal framework. But he also went wider and explained the socio-economic impact of state capture on righting the wrongs of the past. Put simply: Pretorius will show how the shadow state subverted the democratic project.

Don't tune out yet

We will at long last hear what exactly happened when Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister on December 9, 2015, an unconstrained Pravin Gordhan will detail the enormous assault on National Treasury under Zuma and Mcebisi Jonas will give a blow-by-blow account of the day he was offered his boss' job by Ajay Gupta. It is going to make for riveting viewing.

The truth could quite possibly set some people free

Pretorius confirmed that it was possible that should a witness come forward with self-incriminating evidence, but which helps to expose capture, the commission can recommend that a lesser penalty or the lightest of sanctions be imposed on such a witness.

Anything but plain sailing

Zondo lamented not only the lack of new witnesses or whistleblowers approaching the inquiry, but also that it has been struggling to get the full cooperation of government and state. It has approached the minister of finance twice and the State Security Agency has hobbled attempts to secure security clearance for its investigators.

Ruby Tuesday 

The inquiry will resume at 09:00 on Tuesday when the first witness, Willie Mathebula, is set to be called. He is the acting chief procurement officer at Treasury, and as such knows everything there is to know about how government went about spending nearly R840bn annually on goods and services. And he knows where quite a few bodies are buried.

The News24 watchlist

Hellens is a colourful personality and member of the Johannesburg Bar Association. He will be good to watch and has an agitated client to keep happy. He will quite possibly also act on behalf of Duduzane Zuma. Pretorius is a classic jurist who is able to construct an elegant and effective legal and ethical argument. He won't be blindsided by his opponents. Zondo will, however, be the key figure. He needs to keep his hand on the tiller and ensure that things move apace.

ALSO READ: State capture inquiry: how we got here