More than Pikoli

South Africans beware: the recently adjourned public hearings of the Ginwala inquiry revealed much more than a deep mistrust between suspended prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli and his political masters.

The inquiry exposed a world of acrimony, suspicion and even hatred that has beset the South African criminal justice system.

In one corner: the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and its investigations arm, the Scorpions, now in the process of being ‘integrated” into the South African Police Service (SAPS).

In the other: the rest of government, including senior SAPS members, Department of Justice officials and representatives of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

It was clear from the parties’ representations to Ginwala, the body language during oral submissions and even the icy attitudes during tea time that a cold war is raging between the country’s prosecutors and cops. This is intolerable in a country where we kill 50 of our own every day.

Good cooperation between the NPA and the SAPS is vital to successfully combat the army of criminals looting our country. A prosecutor distrustful of his investigator’s work will find it difficult to convince the court that a crime has been committed.
The same goes for police officers who believe that their prosecutors are biased or aligned to a political faction.

In 1999 government decided, in line with international policy, to establish the Scorpions within the NPA as an investigating body independent from the SAPS. This was the start of a strained relationship between the police and the Scorpions that eventually led to the Scorpions’ political and soon-to-be physical demise.

Because of its affiliation with the Scorpions, the NPA has been criticised severely by supporters of ANC President Jacob Zuma and police national commissioner Jackie Selebi for its alleged political persecutions.

The NPA has, unfortunately, become synonymous with the work of one of its legs—the Scorpions.

But the NPA’s main task remains the prosecution of all criminal investigations by the Scorpions and the SAPS.

What the Ginwala inquiry further showed was that the prosecuting authority has been tainted by detractors of the Scorpions and, in particular, by its investigations into Zuma and Selebi.

Seated in government’s corner of the Ginwala boxing ring was Manala Manzini, Director General of the NIA, justice department Director General Menzi Simelane, acting police boss Tim Williams and a string of other senior SAPS, NIA and department of justice employees. They were openly gunning for Pikoli, the Scorpions and the NPA.

Simelane claimed that he had more authority over the NPA as accounting officer and disputed Pikoli’s interpretation of his limited powers as administrative head of justice. He further made the stunning assertion that the NPA’s independence is not guaranteed by the Constitution.

Manzini lambasted the Scorpions’ intelligence gathering and Director General in the presidency Frank Chikane criticised the way in which he was treated by the NPA in its prosecution of former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok.

On Pikoli’s side sat senior prosecutors and Scorpions investigators, including acting NPA boss Mokotedi Mpshe, Gauteng Scorpions head Gerrie Nel and Witwatersrand director of public prosecutions Charin de Beer. They were unified in their theory that Pikoli was suspended to save Selebi’s skin and that their constitutional independence was being eroded by the interference of President Thabo Mbeki, Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla, Simelane and the SAPS in the case.

It is now up to former speaker Frene Ginwala to decide whether Pikoli is a fit person to hold office. She will make her findings known to Mbeki, who will then inform Parliament about his decision. Parliament can overrule Mbeki’s decision with a majority vote.

But Ginwala’s ruling will not solve the tension that underlies the important relationship between the NPA and the SAPS. Sober minds and a unified commitment to fight crime are necessary to end the raging cold war.

This requires that the right people in the right positions find a workable relationship between the SAPS and the NPA, with or without the Scorpions. These don’t include the SAPS top brass who are hell-bent on protecting and defending Selebi.

Their attitude is illustrated by a recent top-level discussion where a deputy national commissioner was overheard saying that he would send all the Scorpions who join the police to the Nyanga and Alexandra police stations ‘to solve the crime if they are so good”.

The incoming government must carefully choose the individuals to head up these institutions. They must be trustworthy people who put the South African cause before that of a political party or faction. Rebuilding the trust between the NPA and the SAPS will not happen overnight, but is essential in our war against crime.

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