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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.

* This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Mail & Guardian.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Click here.

The
M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane)
produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za
for our stories, activities and funding
sources.

 

Amabhungane

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Drew Forrest
Drew Forrest has been working as a journalist for 40 years, with stints at Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Times of Swaziland and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. He has been a deputy editor, political editor, business editor and labour editor, among other positions. Author of a book on cricket, The Pacemen (Pan Macmillan 2013), he has also edited several non-fiction books. He is the managing partner (editorial) of IJ Hub, a regional training offshoot of amaBhungane.

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