President Cyril Ramaphosa said history will absolve him when it comes to the fight against corruption, insisting the country is on the right track.
Ramaphosa said the only thing the government can do is strengthen crime fighting institutions and allow them space to do their jobs.
"History will absolve me because the determination to put things right is there," the president said on Wednesday evening, when asked about his government's response to widespread corruption.
He was in dialogue with the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef).
He discussed a series of topics, including corruption, Covid-19 and the country's plans for economic recovery.
Ramaphosa conceded the lack of capacity in law enforcement was a serious concern.
He added that he had been told about the lack of capacity, with some of the law enforcement agencies having been hollowed out.
"State capture has hollowed out their capability, people who were good at their jobs were marched out; they were dismissed, pursued until they left, and some of them have been compromised," he told the group of editors and senior journalists.
He said all the government could do was capacitate the law enforcement agencies, and ask them to communicate areas where they are experiencing challenges.
The president said he agreed with the assertion that corruption related to personal protective equipment (PPE) was tantamount to murder.
Ramaphosa said: "The WHO says it is murder and I do take that view as well cause those who either hiked prices, in some cases up to 800%. I ask myself what gets into somebody's head that a mask would ordinarily cost R2 or R3 rand is sold for R90… that must tell somebody that it's not only wrong it's criminal, completely unacceptable."
The president said this also applied to those who produced shoddy equipment and products.
Ramaphosa said he understood the frustration, which he said was justified in the face of growing corruption, but he insisted that there are efforts in the right direction.
"We may be moving at a slow pace. We may be moving at a pace, you know, where people want faster movement, but we are painstakingly putting things right," he said.
He said the country has reached a stage where the changes many want to see will start happening.
"There will continue to be those forces that resist the change and they will seek to put the brakes on," said Ramaphosa.
He said those who benefitted from a dysfunctional state would seek to continue to do so.
But he also insisted that he, himself, could never lead the arrests of people.
"The day you have a president who will go out and arrest people, prosecute them and jail them, you should run for the hills," Ramaphosa said.
The president also explained why politicians, implicated in corruption, remained in their positions. He said labour laws had to be respected.
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