Casualties in the battle for succession

The country’s chief prosecutor has been suspended, its top cop may be wanted for corruption—and South Africans are wondering whether both are casualties in a battle for leadership of the African National Congress (ANC).

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), reported on Thursday that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi, who was still in his office on Friday.

It said it had “reliably learnt” that the warrant was obtained last week by the head of the National Prosecuting Authority Vusi Pikoli, before Pikoli’s suspension by President Thabo Mbeki on Monday.

Pikoli headed the elite Scorpions that had been reported to be investigating Selebi’s links to underworld crime syndicates. Pikoli handled other politically sensitive cases, including the so far unsuccessful prosecution of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, who was fired as Mbeki’s deputy in 2005 following allegations of corruption in connection with a lucrative arms deal.

Officials have said only that Pikoli was suspended because of poor relations with his boss, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Bridgette Mabandla, and there has been no confirmation of Selebi’s imminent arrest.

Word of Pikoli’s suspension came in a terse presidential statement as Mbeki left the country to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

The government’s silence hasn’t stopped South Africans from speculating about whether the latest developments are signs of turmoil within the governing party.

Mbeki and Zuma are locked in a bitter succession battle that will be decided in December when the ANC is expected to elect a new leader who will head the party and be in line to run for president when Mbeki’s term ends in 2009.
Mbeki is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term, and few doubt he opposes Zuma becoming his successor.

South African newspapers have suggested that Pikoli was suspended for pursuing Selebi, a close ally of Mbeki.

Mabandla and Pikoli have been at odds over whether the Scorpions should remain under the justice ministry or be moved to the police.

Police officials have reportedly complained Scorpions investigators were overstepping their mandate and infringing police territory. The minister has said sided with police, arguing that they are the superior crime fighting force.

Early in the week, the Star reported that Mbeki was to order a probe into Selebi in a bid to allow him to clear his name.

Mbeki has demonstrated time and again that he values party discipline, loyalty and discretion. The inner workings of the ANC are so shrouded that Pikoli’s suspension has been used to make seemingly opposing points.

Some analysts claim that Pikoli was suspended for failing to prosecute Zuma, while others have said his suspension was meant to appease Zuma supporters who claim that Mbeki has used the national prosecuting authority to tackle political opponents.

Zuma has accused the Scorpions of being overzealous in pursuing him and attempting to destroy his chances of becoming the party—and the country’s—next president.


“People are taking all sorts of lines and all sorts of conclusions are being drawn,” said Steven Friedman, research associate at Idasa, the Institute for Democracy in South Africa.

“When there is not full disclosure of government actions, particularly when we are coming up to a very hotly contested presidential contest at the end of the year, it is inevitable that all this speculation is going to happen,” Friedman told SABC radio.

Politics aside, some are left wondering who is directing the fight against crime in a country with one of the highest crimes rates in the world.

Helen Zille, head of the Democratic Alliance, said Mbeki needed to speak out.

“The most serious questions, with profound constitutional implications, are being asked about the conduct of the president and the national police commissioner. The president needs to take the nation into his confidence,” she said.

Mbeki cannot himself decide about Selebi, as Mbeki’s “credibility is under suspicion because it appears as if he has favourites whom he protects”, Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said. Therefore, a judicial commission of inquiry should be appointed to investigate Selebi.

In a letter to Mbeki, Groenewald said various allegations are being levelled against Selebi. There are reports of a dossier with the Scorpions implying that Selebi could be involved with a crime syndicate.

“Because other members of the SAPS [South African Police Service] could be possible witnesses and [because of] the tension which currently exists between Commissioner Selebi and the Scorpions, you are requested to appoint an independent judicial commission of inquiry. It is in the national interest to disprove or confirm these allegations,” Groenewald wrote

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu agreed the time had come for “the slate to be cleaned at the highest level”.

“The country has the right to know the true facts. It is untenable to have a commissioner of police and a director of national prosecutions under such a dark cloud.

“The IFP in the public interest therefore puts an extremely serious question to President Mbeki, namely: Has a warrant of arrest, or any warrant, at any stage, been applied for against Mr Selebi?”

Mbeki, in the statement on Monday announcing Pikoli’s suspension, acknowledged concerns about crime.

He said his “government would like to reassure all South Africans that the functioning of the justice system will not be compromised, especially within the context of the collective challenge to fight crime.” ‒ Sapa-AP, Sapa

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