/ 6 December 2021

Batohi says Cronje’s departure does not mean NPA is in crisis

Ndpp Interviews: Shamila Batohi Emerges As Favourite
National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alaister Russell)

National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi on Monday said public frustration at the failure of the Investigating Directorate to secure a single conviction so far was understandable but that high-level cases might be enrolled in court before the head of the unit, Hermione Cronje, leaves office next year.

“I can fully understand the impatience of the people of South Africa, in terms of the apparent slow movement of prosecutions,” she said. “These matters are reality complicated and the sad reality in the current climate is that accused persons will do everything possible, [using] the so-called Stalingrad tactics to ensure that cases do not proceed to finality, to ensure that the state is not able to even start leading the evidence on the merits of the case.”

Batohi told a wide-ranging media briefing the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was planning to implement guidelines to help prosecutors resist such attempts and argue against cases “being inordinately delayed” before they are finalised.

Since the inception of the NPA’s Investigating Directorate just more than two and half years ago, she said, the unit had “enrolled about 18 cases, 70% being criminal cases that are still being ventilated in court”, while the rest related to asset forfeiture proceedings.

“Advocate Cronje has indicated that there are many cases that are ready to be enrolled and [that] every effort [should] be made to ensure that this happens as soon as possible, and I am certainly hoping that we will see some movement in key cases before Adv Cronje vacates her office,” she added.

Batohi strenuously denied that Cronje’s resignation — mulled over for months but only announced last week — was prompted by a breakdown in their relationship: “The incorrect narrative in the media that it is because of interpersonal relations between her and I. It really makes for dramatic reporting, but that is where it ends.”

She said she initially tried to persuade Cronje to stay on but finally agreed to release her at the end of February next year, adding that leadership transitions were normal, even healthy.

“I did initially, in the initial period, try to speak to Adv Cronje and try to ask her to remain. That was in the earlier phases, but it got to a point where I realised it would be in the interest of all concerned that Adv Cronje does leave and that is why I agreed to her vacation of office.”

She said Cronje had taken the Investigating Directorate from zero to a solid foundation for prosecuting state capture cases and denied that there was any crisis in the entity or in the wider NPA.

There was a hint of criticism, however, in her insistence on the need for strategic alignment on case selection between herself and that of the head of the directorate in order to make a meaningful impact.

“The investigating director and the national director need to be fully aligned on the overall strategy of the directorate, on the prosecution strategy, the priorities and case specific strategies, and then act with razor sharp focus on these,” Batohi said.

“Moving forward there is going to be an avalanche of work coming from the Zondo commission as well, so we really need to enhance that ability to be very strategic and focused in terms of what we select … I think perhaps one of the biggest shortcomings is trying to do too much, you know, without all of the resources that we need.”

Following several extensions, the final report of the Zondo commission into state capture is now due to be released on 1 January.

Batohi cautioned that it would be unrealistic to expect that this would quickly translate into a slew of new prosecutions. 

“There will also be an expectation then that there will be quick successes and I really want to temper expectations in that regard and say that there is a big difference between testifying in a commission and putting together a watertight case. So, it will take time to go through that and to make sure that we are very strategic about what the cases are that are emanating from the Zondo commission.”

But Batohi said, if the Investigating Directorate now had a staff complement of 120 people and its own headquarters, admitted weaknesses in the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation, known as the Hawks, posed a serious risk to progress.

“This really has to be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency otherwise we are going to be dealing with cases and we will make an impact, but it is not going to happen as fast as the public and as we would like to actually see cases moving to court,” she said.

Batohi said failure was not an option, and neither was her own resignation.

She was committed to “soldiering on”, and if there was impatience there was also progress in that those who committed corruption could no longer be assured of getting away with it.

“We still have a long way to go. We are not anywhere near where we want to be but where we are at now, clearly the age of impunity is over — there is no guaranteed impunity anymore. And that is really important — that even though the wheels of justice are turning slowly, they are turning.”