Learning from Corruption and Violent Unrest in South Africa

Emilio Giuliani III. Emilio is a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, the Vice President of the International Law Society and an IRLS Fellow. Emilio worked as a legal research assistant for Corruption Watch South Africa over the (northern hemisphere’s) summer of 2021.

Over the course of my summer internship, I engaged in substantive legal work for Corruption Watch, a South African non-profit organization that has been working hand-in-hand with the South African public to communicate, investigate, research, and mobilize against corrupt actors for nearly a decade. Corruption Watch’s objectives include fighting the rising tide of corruption and the abuse of public funds by promoting transparency, accountability, and good governance. Corruption Watch South Africa is an accredited chapter of Transparency International.

I worked directly for Karam Singh, the Head of Investigations and Legal, and supported him in preparation for high-level presentations, meetings, and panel discussions. Throughout the summer, I conducted extensive legal research on topics including whistleblower laws, qui tam, infrastructure procurement, Covid-19-related corruption, corporate-governmental fraud, and political unrest. I had the opportunity to remotely attend events based in both the US and South Africa, and I networked with attorneys in Washington, D.C. to learn about anti-corruption legal tools and methods.

This summer has been tumultuous for South Africa, with large-scale looting, riots, and unrest seen across the country in mid-July. Sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma but truly caused by decades of government mismanagement, economic stagnation, and rising unemployment, this wave of chaos in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the worst violence in the country since Apartheid. Amid this backdrop, important work in combatting national-level corruption was overshadowed by the basic needs of the country’s citizens.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in addressing corruption in South Africa is uncovering just how extensively and deeply state capture has impacted national politics and business institutions across the country. After three years of testimony and investigation, the Zondo Commission (officially the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture) continues to unpack the pervasive and deleterious effects of corrupt actors like former President Zuma and the Gupta brothers, a family group who together with their associates have stolen billions from state institutions. Former President Zuma, who initiated the Commission in January 2018 to review allegations of governmental corruption, is currently serving a fifteen-month sentence for contempt of court. In June of this year, the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa issued arrest warrants for members of the Gupta family and sought the support of Interpol and the Emirati government in extraditing the Guptas to South Africa from Dubai.

My work supported Corruption Watch in holding institutions accountable and promoting online conversations throughout the above crises. Specifically, I collaborated with Karam Singh on creating presentations and drafting speaking points for high-level discussions on the events as they occurred and evolved. From an infrastructure procurement partnership with the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille, to a multinational roundtable discussion about national responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, my research and writing played a role in Corruption Watch’s advocacy. I also conducted comparative international research, proposing ideas on how South Africa may adopt elements from US anti-corruption legal practices to better protect whistleblowers and hold corrupt and fraudulent actors accountable for their crimes.

Throughout the summer, I was able to significantly broaden my perspective on legal tools and methods across two national systems, those of the US and South Africa. Working with Karam Singh and the rapid pace of events and investigative revelations emphasized the importance of swift and comprehensive legal research. I am incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to learn from Karam and for the chance to contribute to such a critically important organization during an especially turbulent time in South Africa’s history.


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