South Africa

The Gathering 2020

NPA boss Shamila Batohi: There’s no quick fix

Shamila Batohi speaking to Rebecca Davis at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in Cape Town on Friday 6 March 2020. (Photo: Bernard Kotze)

Prosecutions boss advocate Shamila Batohi says she knows the pressure is on for prosecutions for corruption and State Capture. But right now, the focus must be on rebuilding the National Prosecuting Authority – so it can take on the baddies, regardless of who they are.

Speaking at the Daily Maverick’s The Gathering, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shamila Batohi said she is painfully aware of the public pressure for prosecutions for corruption and State Capture.

But that’s just not possible right now, given how the NPA has been weakened, deliberately, over time. And so in her first year in the top prosecutions job, time had to be spent on repairing the lack of skills, the lack of confidence and internal structures.

“The reality is if you want to bring a good corruption case… the average internationally in developed jurisdictions, it takes between six and nine years. It’s not what we want to benchmark ourselves against… but it is the reality.”

The NPA had been “absolutely decimated in the past decade” and one of the fundamental issues was to rebuild weakened institutions.

Shamila Batohi speaking to Rebecca Davis at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in Cape Town on Friday 6 March 2020. (Photo: Bernard Kotze)

“We are trying to fix a plane while flying. We can’t land… It’s extremely difficult,” said Batohi.

“We cannot go into battle with powerful people, who have a lot of money, without prosecutors who are fearless and inspired.”

The NPA is to receive an additional R1.3-billion over the next three years, which Batohi says is a sign of confidence by the government in the prosecution service.

There has been some progress, as emerged in Parliament this week. An example is Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigations of municipal malfeasance – 18 finalised, 21 before court and 25 under investigation.

And there is a growing cooperation between the NPA, the Hawks, the South African Revenue Service and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC). 

“In the past these units were not really talking to each other. There is a lot of goodwill but they lack capacity.”

It’s a difficult road, even if there’s help along the way, such as Justice Minister Ronald Lamola meeting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to South Africa on Friday afternoon.

Batohi and others from the NPA, Lamola and Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu travelled to the UAE in December 2019 to discuss with that country’s government the extradition of the Gupta brothers.

It was a follow-up on the request for mutual legal assistance filed some two years earlier.

“We didn’t have our ducks in a row… Initially, our request to the UAE needed some fixing. We fixed this. We are waiting. It’s been two-and-a-half months… We are getting frustrated,” said Batohi, sidestepping questions on further details.

And what about the State Capture commission headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo – would an interim report help the NPA?

“Yes, please, Judge Zondo give us an interim report,” said the prosecutions boss. “The last thing we need is when the commission is finished to dump this massive data. It really worries us.”

Engagements with Zondo Commission staff are underway to find a way to migrate information now.

“We would certainly welcome an interim report that would help us to move in certain areas.”

Batohi says everyone, including her mother, is asking about arrests.

Despite the pressure for arrests in corruption and State Capture cases, the NPA must prosecute tens of thousands of other cases. And there is renewed focus on prosecuting those involved in apartheid crimes – not just the footsoldiers, but also those who gave the orders.

The work at the NPA was about focus, considered action and not bothering about the noise.

“I lead a very solitary life in Pretoria. I also study Indian philosophy, which I hope will solidify me when the attacks really come,” said Batohi.

 “We have an objective. We will not be distracted. ” DM

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