South Africa

South Africa, Politics

Terrible Thursday for Jiba, Mrwebi & Makwakwa: Who will be next to fall in Zuma’s Praetorian guard?

The same day the North Gauteng High court ruled that one of the most powerful women in the country, NPA deputy head Nomgcobo Jiba, should be struck off the Roll of Advocates along with Commercial Crimes head Lawrence Mrwebi, outgoing public protector, Thuli Madonsela – who is investigating allegations of state capture by the Gupta family – revealed that she had subpoenaed the secretary of Cabinet to hand over declarations of Cabinet ministers and minutes from November 2015 to April 2016. Meanwhile, the second most powerful man at SARS, Jonas Makwakwa, has been suspended pending an investigation into allegations of irregular payments into his bank account. Who will be next to fall? By MARIANNE THAMM.

One by one, it seems that the pawns in the long-term Machiavellian political chess game so audaciously played by President Jacob Zuma are being snatched off the play board. Well, maybe not quite yet. It is a magnetic board, it appears, and some of the pawns have been rather stubborn in their refusal to exit the game.

Like Nomgcobo Jiba, for example, who has managed for several years to delay the inevitable. In her defence of Jacob Zuma she has defied the courts, protected former head of Crime Intelligence Richard Mdluli, refused to hand over the “spy tapes”, and pushed for the prosecution of Johan Booysen, the suspended KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head who was at some point also investigating the politically connected Durban businessman and Zuma family associate, Thoshan Panday.

Judge Francis Legodi was scathing in his judgment of Jiba and Mrwebi on Thursday, saying Jiba had flouted “every rule in the fight against crime”, that she had failed the citizens of South Africa, damaged the image of the legal profession and brought the prosecuting authority into disrepute. Judge Legodi found both Jiba and Mrwebi not “fit and proper” to remain on the role of advocates.

One of Jiba’s casualties, former prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, now DA Shadow Minister of Justice, and who was investigating Mdluli, on Thursday welcomed the decision adding that Section 9 of the NPA Act required President Zuma to fire Jiba without delay.

Breytenbach added: “This is not the first time that his [Zuma’s] close ally has been slated by South Africa’s Judiciary and the President must give effect to his ‘commitment’ to the Rule Law and act to remove Ms Jiba from our prosecuting authority if we are to start taking steps to restoring integrity to the NPA.”

The fact that Jiba was still in office without inquiry, however, said Breytenbach, “is proof of presidential protection”.

It is likely that both Jiba and Mrwebi will appeal the ruling; it is not in their nature to accept such a ruthless court decision without a fightback.

NDPP head and Jiba’s boss, Shaun Abrahams, has just returned to the country after delivering a presentation to the International Association of Prosecutors Conference in Ireland. He was seen at the chambers of Hilton Epstein SC on Thursday where he spent four hours while his bodyguards sipped tea in the reception area. Abrahams issued a formal statement on Thursday that he had “noted” the decision.

Jiba and Mrwebi’s is a downfall of their own making, a consequence of the hubristic ethos of the destructive Zuma presidency which now appears to be at a tipping point.

There will be others the president will take down with him, those who are and were willing to shield and protect him from facing the more than 700 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering – those who benefit from the deep and extensive network of patronage that has been spun around No 1 and that they cannot survive without. This is bound to be a bloody battle. Already it has cost the ANC dearly in votes, support and public sentiment.

Another stubborn piece on the chess board and who will soon have to face his final curtain is SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has acted with the same imperious air of impunity as Jiba. The cost of Motsoeneng’s “rule” at the public broadcaster – turned willingly into state broadcaster – has yet to be calculated.

Over at SAA, rogue Chair of the Board Dudu Myeni too has behaved like a woman blessed. On Thursday, the country’s national carrier finally tabled its financials showing a loss of R4.7-billion for 2014/15. According to the Finance ministry, the airline faces another R1.8-billion loss in 2015/16.

The list of political casualties who have stood up to Zuma’s forces in this game so far is long and the consequences have been personally devastating. It includes Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg, Adrian Lackay, Pete Richer, Mxolisi Nxasana, Robert McBride as well as other IPID officials, Anwa Dramat, Shadrack Sibiya, Johan Booysen, Glynnis Breytenbach and Zelda Holtzman.

Pravin Gordhan is not yet a casualty but is under no illusions that he serves “at the pleasure of the president”.

Others who have been targeted apparently for flying too close to the flame in investigating political corruption and its intersection with criminality include forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan, who has been relentless in lodging a series of charges also against Jiba, Mrwebi and Prince Mokotedi, former head of the NPA’s integrity unit and currently head of the Gauteng Hawks. Mokotedi was involved, along with Jiba and Mrwebi, in the illegal arrest of Advocate Gerrie Nel during his prosecution of former police chief Jackie Selebi.

Jiba, it is believed, has never forgiven Nel for prosecuting her husband, attorney and former member of the DSO (or Scorpions), Booker Nhantsi, for stealing money from a client’s trust fund in 2010. President Zuma expunged, “in an act of mercy”, Nhantsi’s record.

Four years ago O’Sullivan lodged a statement listing 11 suspects with Lawrence Mrwebi as the “main accused” and including Jiba, Mdluli and Mokotedi. At the time, O’Sullivan wrote, “I am listing Lawrence Mrwebi as the ‘Main Accused’ as he is the person that has caused the most havoc and continues to unlawfully interfere in criminal cases for and on behalf of his political masters”.

O’Sullivan was dragged off a plane by the Hawks on April 1 on spurious charges that he was travelling with three passports. Mokotedi has made it his personal business to oversee O’Sullivan’s case.

Asked for comment by Daily Maverick on Thursday’s finding, O’Sullivan said, “I am unable to comment as I have several matters pending in the courts.”

But the one man (apart from President Zuma) who still at this point has managed to slip the coils of justice is Richard Mdluli.

The question is, for how long, now that the dominoes are falling?

Mdluli, we must remember, was key to catapulting Jacob Zuma into the presidency. It was he, as the SAPS Gauteng provincial commissioner, who oversaw the investigation into Zuma’s rape charges in 2006. Later it was also Mdluli who “uncovered” a “conspiracy” allegedly hatched by then Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale to topple Zuma at the ANC’s 2012 National Conference in Mangaung.

On the same day that Jiba and Mrwebi were being dished some rather strong medicine, over at SARS, another state institution that has been turned into a battleground during the Zuma presidency, Jonas Makwakwa, the second most powerful man at the revenue service apart from Commissioner Tom Moyane, was suspended. This after a banking regulator had picked up suspicious banking activity relating to the private bank accounts of Makwakwa and his partner Kelly-Ann Elskie, also a SARS employee.

The ministry of finance on Thursday issued a statement announcing that it “noted the suspension of a senior official at SARS that is reported in the media. National Treasury has not been formally informed yet. However, National Treasury met with Mr Moyane and another senior official this week to discuss the matter.”

One of the first visits Minister Gordhan made after his reappointment in December was to Commissioner Moyane to request that he halt the restructuring of SARS, some of which was overseen by Makwakwa himself. Moyane refused to comply.

Moyane was made aware of the evidence that had been collected on 17 May but sat on the information until it broke in the media last week. This would make him guilty of an offence under Section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act which requires an individual in a position of authority and “who knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that any other person committed an offence of corruption…” to be reported to a police official.

This is in stark contrast to Moyane’s immediate purge of the entire executive of SARS under Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay after untested allegations of a “rogue” unit were strategically leaked to the Sunday Times.

Moyane spent R26-million on the KPMG report which has never been made public. Apart from this “investigation”, there was also the Sikhakhane Report and the Kroon Commission, both of which gobbled up public funds.

Moyane announced in an internal memo to SARS staff on Thursday that Makwakwa had been suspended. His partner, Kelly-Ann Elskie, who has also been implicated in a detailed statement by a financial regulator, appears not to have been suspended.

Questions by Daily Maverick to SARS went unanswered at the time of writing. SARS could also not confirm a report that Elskie had falsified her qualifications and that Makwakwa had intervened and had pushed for her appointment in the SARS law administration division. Before that, Elskie was the PA to SARS anti-corruption head, Clifford Collings.

Collings is believed to have been close to Makwakwa.

Daily Maverick was reliably informed that Moyane met with Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza on 29 August but he has denied this. The Hawks have consistently referred to the Makwakwa allegations as “an internal matter”.

However, Ntlemeza, another Zuma appointee, has been hugely enthusiastic in his “investigation” of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and other former SARS officials after Tom Moyane’s lodging of a complaint in March 2015.

Ntlemeza has made about 40 new appointments in the Hawks since slipping into the hot seat (and asking Parliament for a helicopter or a jet) in September 2015.

Freedom Under Law (FUL), which had applied for an interdict against Jiba and Mrwebi, welcomed Thursday’s ruling.

This judgment demonstrates the courts’ determined opposition to corruption in high places and vindicates FUL’s decision some years ago to challenge the unlawful and ostensibly corrupt refusal to prosecute General Richard Mdluli. Our allegations have been upheld and the false attempts at refutation found to be untruthful,” FUL said in a statement.

FUL appealed to the National Director of Public Prosecutions “to seize the opportunity to put an end to the actions that have tarnished the image of the institution he heads and done untold harm to the Rule of Law. FUL would, for instance, welcome the genuine continuation of the Mdluli prosecution on the outstanding corruption-related charges and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the spurious charges against Advocate Glynnis Breytenbach and her attorney, as also the threatened action against Minister Pravin Gordhan. The country expects no less of Advocate Abrahams.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe confirmed that outgoing Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had subpoenaed the secretary of Cabinet to hand over minutes of Cabinet from November 2015 to April 2016 as well as declarations of Cabinet ministers. The minutes record the appointment of acting ministers while the incumbent ministers were abroad.

Madonsela will leave office at the end of October after having completed much of her investigation into alleged state capture by the Gupta family or their proxies.

This has been a devastating week not only for President Zuma, who was insulted during question time in the National Assembly, but also for the Anti-Corruption Task Team, which was severely criticised by members of Scopa on Wednesday.

Ntlemeza, who is the chair of ACTT, was out of his depth and could barely answer any questions put to him by committee members. What ACTT did reveal, however, is that the country lost a horrifying R150-billion to fraud and corruption in government departments in only six years. This is a devastating amount channelled away from desperate South Africans and into the pockets of state officials.

For now, South African courts have acted as a bulwark, protecting the country’s constitutional democracy. Slowly but surely, those who have abused their positions are all washing up on these legal shores. There are still a few big fish and sharks in the waters but one day is one day – like Thursday was Jiba’s and Mrwebi’s. DM

Photo of President Jacob Zuma by Greg Nicolson.

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