South Africa

Analysis: Happy Human Rights Day – 57 years later, political thugs threaten fragile democracy

By Marianne Thamm 22 March 2017

Former Director-General of the Department of Social Development, Zane Dangor, who resigned out of protest in the wake of the Sassa/CPS scandal, spent Human Rights Day providing police with a statement after a mysterious invasion of his home by two men who arrived in an unmarked car on Monday. The men took nothing, but injured Dangor’s son in the attack. At least one of the cars used in the raid on Dangor’s house had been spotted lurking outside that of Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza earlier. This in the slipstream of a brazen raid and theft of 15 computers from the offices of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Friday, a day after the ConCourt’s delivery of a scathing judgment in the Sassa/CPS matter. Welcome to President Jacob Zuma’s South Africa. By MARIANNE THAMM.

It has become an accepted habit, second nature in fact, for anyone who orbits political circles in South Africa. The idea that there are men or women concealed somewhere, illegally eavesdropping on private conversations or hacking into computers.

It is a matter of routine in South Africa 2017, when meeting anyone who is even remotely politically connected, to either switch phones to airplane mode, remove the device entirely from the immediate vicinity where one would like to conduct a private conversation, or better still, eviscerate the battery, reducing the phone to the parts of its sum.

Back in 1960 when police opened fire, injuring 180 and killing 69 protesters at Sharpeville, things were a little less technologically advanced. The same went for the ‘70s and ‘80s as anti-apartheid protests became a way of life for the disenfranchised. Back then it was the tell-tale clicks and pops on a phone landline that would reveal the presence of the feared security police. That, and the unmarked cars that would routinely park outside the homes of anti-apartheid activists or would prowl townships or suburbs in an attempt at intimidating anyone who opposed the rogue apartheid state. There were also the brazen assassinations by faceless death squads.

Twenty-three years after South Africa’s first democratic elections, mysterious men in unmarked cars are once again being deployed to intimidate officials intimately linked to one of the ANC’s biggest own-goals in history – the Sassa social grants scandal.

It is a tragedy that a senior official, Zane Dangor, a man who has served government with distinction, should be targeted so soon after his resignation as DG of Social Development and should spend Human Rights Day providing police with statements about a raid on his home.

Police on Monday at first refused to take a statement, saying “nothing had been taken” after two men in unmarked cars arrived at Dangor’s home around midday, overpowered his helper and his son (while his daughter locked herself in a room). Dangor was not home during the incident and nothing was taken. At least one of the cars had also been spotted outside the home of embattled Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza a week before. Magwaza was also not at home at the time and the driver sped off when Magwaza’s family threatened to call police.

It is common knowledge that Dangor and Magwaza, who had, from the start, indicated that Sassa needed to fulfil its legal obligations to the Constitutional Court in relation to its 2014 ruling on the invalid CPS tender, were sidelined by Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini as well as a team of hand-picked advisers who seemed hell-bent on outsourcing – against all legal advice – the R10-billion-a-month contract to CPS.

Dangor and Magwaza have intimate knowledge of what went down behind the scenes during the Sassa scandal, including Dlamini’s insistence on taking advice from President Jacob Zuma’s lawyer, Michael Hulley, ignoring that provided by the State Advocate. It was also Hulley who reportedly inexplicably pushed for the CPS contact to be extended and which ultimately resulted in the ConCourt challenge and bruising judgment last Thursday. Dlamini has rightfully been ordered by the court to pay the legal costs for the application brought by the human rights NGO, Black Sash.

Dangor’s bold move in resigning, forfeiting a well-paid government job after years of service, had offered inspiration to other officials who have been bullied and sidelined in the Sassa debacle. If they had been thinking of speaking out, Monday’s little visit by the nameless bullies will most certainly prompt them to reconsider.

And that is exactly the message whoever sent the bullies would like to have transmitted far and wide.

Dare to expose us and you will be dealt with extrajudicially.

The brazen break-in at the offices of the Chief Justice in Midrand on Friday, a day after two bruising court judgments – the ConCourt judgment in the Sassa/CPS matter as well as the High Court ruling that the appointment of Hawks head, Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko is illegal – is, said Lawson Naidoo of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, a “critical moment in our democracy”.

In a sane and functioning democracy, the Minister of Police would have immediately ensured that Ntlemeza, a man two courts have found to be dishonest and not fit for purpose to lead the country’s No 1 crime-fighting unit, be immediately suspended. Instead Minister Nathi Nhleko has announced he will be challenging the judgment as it is, in his world, merely an “opinion” offered by a judge.

That the Minister of Police, in a country plagued by violent crime, should deem it suitable to hold on to an old apartheid-era cop who has been found to be unsuitable to hold his position, is indicative of where priorities lie.

Ntlemeza has led the charge in the political witch hunt of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordan, a task he bungled spectacularly when the charges were withdrawn in October. Ntlemeza either deliberately withheld evidence or was so deeply incompetent that he failed to gather all evidence in the Gordhan, Pillay, Magashula case including the exculpatory “Symington memorandum”.

Nonetheless, Minister Nhleko appears to have complete faith in Ntlemeza.

The break-in at the CJ offices, meanwhile, has made international news and Naidoo was quoted by the Financial Times on Monday as saying it had “all the hallmarks of being carefully planned and orchestrated”. CASAC has called for an independent investigation of the raid.

On Tuesday President Zuma touched on the issue of crime and criminality in his Human Rights Day speech in King William’s Town, saying “We call upon the police to act decisively against criminals who terrorise our people.”

Zuma added that South Africans had “indicated” that “they are tired of crime and being abused and bullied by gangs of criminals”.

Ask Zane Dangor. He knows all about it.

Also ask the Helen Suzman Foundation which has been instrumental in ensuring that the country’s laws with regard to Ntlemeza’s appointment are not ignored and undermined.

A year ago, almost to the day, a bunch of armed thugs raided the foundation’s offices in Parktown Johannesburg and made off with computers. This, two days after the foundation had launched its application to have Ntlemeza’s appointment declared unlawful.

At the time, HSF director Francis Antonie said the attack had been well-planned and executed in “military style”.

A policeman from the SAPS in Hillbrow arrived to investigate the robbery but announced to Antonie that it was “above his rank” when he learned that the foundation had just lodged an application with regard to Ntlemeza, the head of the Hawks.

This week Antonie said police had not been back since to take any statements or fingerprints.

Nothing. Nada.

The Right2Know Campaign on Monday issued a statement that the South African political environment “has become very volatile and is increasingly showing elements of criminality”. The organisation said the raid on the Chief Justice’s offices “might look like an attack on the judiciary”.

The State Security Agency in the meantime has noted “with serious concern the baseless accusations made by some insinuating our involvement” (in the break-in at the CJ’s offices).

The agency regularly makes headlines for all the wrong reasons including during the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC where staff testified that the agency had investigated them and for for the agency’s role in the #FeesMustFall movement. Mahlobo himself was recently linked to a rhino-horn smuggling syndicate. An Al Jazeera documentary revealed that Mahlobo was a regular visitor to a Mbombela spa linked to the poachers. “Cabinet” is still investigating the claims.

In December 2015, the agency’s headquarters in Pretoria were burgled and three men made off with around R17-million in foreign currency. Later, one of the suspects, the alleged mastermind, battled to surrender himself to police, who simply ignored the suspect’s lawyer’s SMSes.

My client has been trying to hand himself over since Monday but no one was prepared to [arrest him],” the man’s lawyer, advocate Sammy Mahlangu, said.

The DA’s Chief Whip John Steenhuisen as well as EFF deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, have both claimed that Mahlobo and the SSA are involved in the break-in at the CJ’s offices and have called for an independent inquiry.

In a statement the ANC said the theft was “dastardly criminal act” but that “wild allegations, frivolous conspiracy theories do nothing but feed into a reckless frenzy in society, more so from those who claim to be leaders”. The ruling party has challenged both leaders to “prove” their claims of Mahlobo’s involvement, suggesting that this might very well be nigh impossible.

President Zuma, on the other hand, has not deemed it a priority to comment on this disturbing breach of security at the country’s highest court.

Happy Human Rights Day. DM

Photo: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma laughs before answering questions about his State Of The Nation Address (SONA) in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, 19 February 2015. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

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