Complaints of corruption, theft and fraud against President Jacob Zuma, laid by the public on the basis of the public protector’s findings on Nkandla, are being investigated by police detectives.
But similar complaints made on similar grounds and at the same time about one current and one former member of Zuma’s Cabinet are being investigated by the specialised and considerably more fearsome Hawks unit. And nobody can explain why.
The police commissioner Riah Phiyega dismisses the difference.
One complainant, though, is concerned. “It seems strange to us,” said Paul Hoffman, director of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa.
He laid complaints against Zuma, the former communications minister Dina Pule and the former agriculture and fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson (now energy minister) in December 2013, based on the findings of public protector Thuli Madonsela on the two ministers and a leaked copy of the draft of Madonsela’s report on Nkandla.
She found that Joemat-Pettersson had dealt recklessly with state money and tried to interfere with her investigation into a major fisheries contract. Pule, who had already repaid money spent by her department at the time, had lied persistently about spousal benefits being extended to a romantic partner, Madonsela said. As for Zuma, Madonsela found he had unduly benefitted from state money and breached ethics rules.
Such findings, Hoffman believed, formed sufficient basis for criminal investigation and, after initial trouble with police at a charge office unable to decide how to proceed, he laid his complaints.
What followed, though, was by-the-book administration, with confirmation of case numbers and visits from high-ranking police officials to take a detailed statement.
That efficiency did not last. By August, half a year after his initial complaint, Hoffman was growing frustrated with the lack of action, and demanded information on the progress of investigations.
It was not forthcoming, but early in September Hoffman received an update on the state of the cases.
“The Zuma matter has been referred to the National Investigation Unit of the division detective service by the national commissioner [Riah Phiyega],” police told Hoffman. “The other two matters are being dealt with by … [the Hawks], Western Cape.”
Phiyega’s spokesperson, Solomon Makgale, confirmed that, but said that it was neither new nor untoward.
“The investigation is in line with the constitutional mandate of the SAPS [South African Police Services] to prevent, combat and investigate crime under the control of the national commissioner,” Makgale said. “The Hawks is a specialised unit in the SAPS under the control of the national commissioner.”
Makgale did not give reasons for the decision, or why the complaints about ministers were being treated differently to those about Zuma.
Hoffman said he could see only two possible reasons. “One: quite properly, the national commissioner of police, who has discretion here, exercised that discretion to keep the Zuma matter with the police because the Hawks don’t have the capacity or the balls to do it. The other, more sinister interpretation is that they don’t mind throwing Pule and Joemat-Pettersson to the Hawks, but don’t want the Hawks to have aspirations to be too independent and would like to keep the Zuma matter a little closer to its own hierarchy.
“The Constitutional Court is currently mulling whether the Hawks is a sufficiently independent unit to follow corruption wherever it may occur, including in the highest echelons of the executive,” Hoffman said.