Advocate Hermione Cronje — the newly-appointed head of the new investigating directorate announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in February – is no stranger to shaking up corruption.
Cronje held several positions in the National Prosecurity Authority (NPA) from 1998 to 2012, including assistant to the first national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka. She is also one of the founding members of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) established in 1996 and she served as regional head of the AFU in the Western Cape for 10 years.
In 2012, Cronje was instrumental in the establishment of an anti-corruption task team which investigated, prosecuted and recovered the assets of persons involved in large-scale corruption.
Upon leaving the NPA, Cronje became a consultant on behalf of an initiative by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime called theStolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR).
Through her work with StAR, Cronje guided asset recovery and anti-corruption units in Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and Sri Lanka.
Cronje has also served as a practising advocate of the High Court of South Africa and is a member of the Cape Bar since 2012.
She holds a bachelor’s degree and an LLB which she received in 1993 and 1996 respectively from the University of Cape Town. She also has a masters degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government which she received in 2010.
Cronje will head the directorate which is in the office of NPA head Shamila Batohi and has been dubbed the new Scorpions following the disbandment of the unit in 2009.
The Presidency announced on Friday that Cronje will be at the helm of the new directorate for the next five years and will be “tasked with investigating common law offences including fraud, forgery, uttering, theft and any offence involving dishonesty.”
At the top of the directorates priorities will be probing offences coming out of evidence presented at the commissions of inquiry into state capture, the Public Investment Corporation and the South African Revenue Service.
Ramaphosa announced during his State of the Nation address that a directorate would be established following a request from Batohi. Before Cronje’s appointment, she helped Batohi set up the structure of the new directorate, work on its legislation and the terms of reference that will govern the scope of its work.
Cronje’s appointment is the second major shake up in the NPA since Batohi became NDPP in February. Batohi reappointed Advocate Willie Hofmeyr to lead the AFU after Hofmeyr was removed in 2015.
The NPA, in a statement, described Cronje’s appointment as “an important step towards achieving the NPA’s firm commitment to end impunity for serious crimes, including corruption.”
“Adv Cronje has the academic qualifications, wealth of knowledge and practical expertise required for this crucial position. She is highly regarded in the law enforcement community as a tenacious energetic and competent woman…” the statement reads.
The Public Servants Association (PSA) has also welcomed Cronje’s appointment, saying this move shows a “commitment by government to effectively deal with those who steal from South Africans.”
The statement further reads that the PSA, “as the majority Union in the NPA, is encouraged by the management changes within the NDPP.” The union says it “will continue its efforts to bring about the successful prosecution of those who have stolen not only from the country’s citizens, but also from public servants’ pension investments.”
Batohi will host a media briefing on Friday to officially introduce Cronje.