Editorial: Political meddling haunts NPA

“I felt it was important to send a clear message that political interference in the work of the National Prosecuting Authority would not be tolerated.” This is the thrust of deputy prosecutions chief Willie Hofmeyr’s justification for dropping fraud, corruption and money-laundering charges against Jacob Zuma.

In his response to the Democratic Alliance’s “spy tapes” case, tabled in court this week, Hofmeyr argues that a stand had to be taken against the manipulation of the Zuma case to serve then-president Thabo Mbeki’s political agenda, in particular by the then prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka, Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils.

Well, if that was Hofmeyr’s motive – and some see his role rather differently – he has failed. Political meddling in South Africa’s law enforcement authorities has become far more pervasive under Zuma’s presidency, to the point where it is undermining vital institutions of accountability and the rule of law.

And it is not too fanciful to see in the April 2009 decision to discontinue the Zuma prosecution (which Hofmeyr strongly supported) a crucial tipping point in that destructive decade-long rampage.

Hofmeyr’s defence of the decision is not particularly persuasive. The crux of the DA application for the reinstatement of charges is that the strength of the case, and the integrity of the prosecutors, was in no way affected by the political intriguing of McCarthy and other members of Mbeki’s circle. Political meddling or no, it is argued, there was still a substantial case to answer.

It is a view that was shared by prosecution leader Billy Downer and his “Bumiputera” team, as well as other key figures in the NPA, who did not want the charges dropped. And it remains largely intact.

Where Hofmeyr’s affidavit is uniquely valuable is in providing an insider’s view of how political meddling in the prosecutions service took root under Mbeki’s administration. The motives of the two leaders are very different: Zuma appears driven by an all-consuming fear of “having his day in court”; Mbeki’s overriding aim was to protect his power base and influential political allies, particularly Jackie Selebi, then the national commissioner of police.

Hofmeyr paints a compelling picture of persistent, apparently orchestrated interference in the Selebi corruption investigation: the police refusal to hand documents to the Scorpions; the suspension of NPA boss Vusi Pikoli; the cancellation of warrants of arrest and search; appointment of a panel to review the inquiry; and Mbeki’s claim to know nothing about the allegations’ substance.

Perhaps the most striking section of his affidavit concerns the alleged 2007 conspiracy against the head of the Selebi investigation team, Gerrie Nel, culminating in his arrest on trumped-up charges.

Central to that alleged plot are three familiar figures who would rise up the ranks under Zuma: Nomgcobo Jiba, Lawrence Mrwebi and Richard Mdluli. All are now suspects, facing various charges. And all are seen as cat’s paws of a new political master.


Unfinished business: We need self-examination to heal from apartheid

Physical and psychological violence will continue unless we self-reflect on our apartheid scars

Coronavirus: South Africa will evacuate citizens from Wuhan

The government is expected to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak originated

Primedia CEO Essack leaves following internal battles

Omar Essack leaves the 702 and 94.7 owners after a protracted standoff with the board

‘We’re satisfied with SA’s land reform policy’— US Ambassador

Top US official is lobbying multinational firms to invest in South Africa

Press Releases

Over R400-m given to businesses since launch of three-minute overdraft

The 3-minute overdraft radically reduces the time it takes for businesses to have their working capital needs met

Tourism can push Africa onto a new path – minister

The continent is fast becoming a dynamic sought-after tourist destination

South Africa’s education system is broken and unequal, and must be fixed without further delay

The Amnesty International report found that the South African government continues to miss its own education upgrading targets

Business travel industry generates billions

Meetings Africa is ready to take advantage of this lucrative opportunity

Conferences connect people to ideas

The World Expo and Meetings Africa are all about stimulating innovation – and income

SAB Zenzele Kabili B-BBEE share scheme

New scheme to be launched following the biggest B-BBEE FMCG payout in South Africa’s history

Digging deep

Automation is unstoppable, but if we're strategic about its implementation, it presents major opportunities

TFSAs are the gymnasts of the retirement savings world

The idea is to get South Africans to save, but it's best to do your research first to find out if a TFSA is really suited to your needs