Allegations against ex-president Jacob Zuma included "state capture" in which he allowed businessmen to plunder state coffers during his nine years in office.
A South African corruption inquiry has pointed to systemic graft during former President Jacob Zuma's tenure in the first part of its report published on Tuesday, after more than three years of investigations involving more than 300 witnesses.
"This is the antithesis of accountability. President Zuma fled the Commission because he knew there were questions that would be put to him which he would not have been able to answer," the report said on Tuesday.
The inquiry chaired by senior judge Raymond Zondo was established in 2018 to examine allegations of high-level graft during Zuma's nine years in power from 2009, after scandals and sleaze had overshadowed South Africa's politics for years.
Zuma denies wrongdoing and has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, leading to his imprisonment in July for contempt of court. He was placed on medical parole in September before being ordered back to jail by the high court - a decision he is appealing.
The allegations levelled against Zuma include that he allowed businessmen close to him – brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – to plunder state resources and influence policy, in what is widely referred to in South Africa as "state capture".
The Guptas, who also deny wrongdoing, left South Africa after Zuma was ousted before the end of his second term by now-President Cyril Ramaphosa's allies on the executive of the governing African National Congress party to which they both belong.
Collapse of governance
The first instalment of the Zondo commission's report focused on alleged corruption involving state airline South African Airways (SAA) and related entities, a media company controlled by the Guptas and the revenue service.
On SAA, it said the airline declined into "an entity racked by corruption and fraud" while Zuma was in power. Two former finance ministers told the inquiry that the SAA chairwoman at the time was retained because of the personal preferences of Zuma.
Spokespeople for Zuma and SAA did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment.
The inquiry found the Guptas employed "a calculated strategy ... to appropriate public funds from state-owned enterprises" and said the influence that they exerted over Zuma was "considerable".
It said the revenue service, SARS, was "systemically and deliberately weakened, chiefly through the restructuring of its institutional capacity, strategic appointments and dismissals of key individuals, and a pervasive culture of fear and bullying".
It cited Zuma and a former SARS commissioner as playing critical roles in dismantling it. SARS did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Addressing public procurement broadly, the inquiry said there were patterns of abuse at every stage and that governance had collapsed at state companies.
Four years of work
Two further parts of the report will be submitted to Ramaphosa by the end of February.
The fruit of four years' work, the report was handed to Zuma's successor, President Ramaphosa, who has vowed to root out graft and financial sleaze.
"This is what I would call a defining moment in our country's effort to definitively end the era of state capture and to restore the integrity... of our institutions and more importantly our government," Ramaphosa said.