Analysis

In arresting Ace Magashule-aligned officials, NPA gives the first glimpses of a better future

By Stephen Grootes 2 October 2020
Caption
National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi, left, and head of the new anti-corruption investigative directorate at the NPA, Hermione Cronjé. (Photos: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

The arrest this week of seven former Free State housing officials, and of former ANC MP Vincent Smith, are the first concrete indication of the state of the NPA’s pursuit of State Capture cases. One of those arrested was Edwin Sodi, the man who gave the ANC R3-million. By Thursday, the party could not pay salaries.

On Friday the ANC started an online NEC lekgotla which will resume on Monday. It seems almost unavoidable that political pushback to the arrests will also happen, even as there’s national-level jubilation over the NPA’s moves.

The NPA and the Hawks give every impression that the events of this week are just the start of things to come. On Thursday morning, NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema told SAfm that “law enforcement will be very busy” over the next few days. Sandiswe Twala, spokesperson for the NPA’s Investigative Directorate indicated that other arrests are in the pipeline, and suggested that people in this space “should keep their phones on” for the next few weeks. 

The Mail and Guardian suggested on Friday that people implicated in the looting of VBS bank could be next.

It is also clear that there is a link between the testimony heard at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture and this week’s arrests.

The seven suspects arrested are all linked to the Free State housing department’s asbestos project, which is outlined in Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State. There have been several days of testimony on this project at the commission. The final person to testify was the “tender tycoon” Edwin Sodi. He was forced to explain a slew of payments made to ANC politicians over the years.

Tender tycoon Sodi grilled on a slew of money paid to Cabinet ministers and the ANC

Come Wednesday morning, he was arrested.

This suggests that the Hawks and the NPA were waiting for him to finish testifying before making the arrests linked to this project. It also signals that the NPA and the Zondo Commission are working together, making coordination relatively easy to manage.

At the same time, there are other important breaks from the past.

In 2016, during the Zuma era, the head of the NPA at the time, the captured Shaun Abrahams, visited Luthuli House. The next day, then finance minister Pravin Gordhan was charged with fraud. The then justice minister Michael Masutha said Abrahams had gone to ANC headquarters at his invitation to discuss student protests on campuses. Few people believed him.

The head of the Hawks at the time was Berning Ntlemeza, a man who was appointed after being found by a judge to be a “liar… and a man without integrity”.

It is impossible to imagine Shamila Batohi or Godfrey Lebeya acting in the same way, or even being seen within spitting distance of Luthuli House.

Also, current justice minister Ronald Lamola has given every impression of wanting justice to be done in State Capture cases. It appears that he was one of the driving forces behind the regulation that allows commission investigators to move across to the NPA.

Hermione Cronje, Investigative Directorate boss, sees brighter future after State Capture inquiry’s new rules

All of this demonstrates how important control of the criminal justice system was to Zuma, and how those who dodged accountability now have much to fear.

This latest development leaves them with only political options.

Those implicated in the Free State were already able to get a smattering of people outside the Magistrate’s Court in Bloemfontein to support them on Friday. Posters, placards and ANC regalia were on view, as their supporters claimed that the accused were being unfairly targeted. (One of those charged was found to have a cell phone and cash inside the prison, and had additional charges added.)

There are plenty of people within the ANC who will be trying hard to ensure that those arrested this week are given the fullest possible support.

Nomvula Mokonyane, for example, must be fearing that she could be the next person to be arrested for benefitting from Bosasa money. She is the chair of the ANC’s national disciplinary committee of appeal. The consequence of her being arrested would be significant: it could literally change the balance of power on that committee, should someone have to come before it.

Then, of course, there is the continuous speculation around Ace Magashule himself. This is both because of how much evidence there is against him in the public domain (if not yet the legal one) and because of the position he holds. For many, he has become a bogeyman figure… a symbol of everything that is wrong with the ANC today.

But it is also because of the power that he holds through his office. Were he to be charged or arrested, and then forced to step down, it could mean that the Nasrec contestation is over and President Cyril Ramaphosa has finally won.

But such a development is not a given and it would be the biggest political fight imaginable. Magashule was elected by a conference, and thus cannot be forced to step down – he can only resign. For that to happen, it is likely that his own personal priorities would have to shift from a desire to retain his political power to one of retaining his liberty, though it is certain that he would prefer to keep both.

Magashule has said consistently, and in defiance of both ANC conference resolutions and an NEC decision, that he would not step down if accused of corruption. This has led to him being summoned by the party’s Integrity Commission to explain himself. His public comments are possibly both a preparation for and an indication of his future strategy.

The other strategy that is likely is that mud will now be thrown at everyone. There could well be an attempt to claim that those now being implicated in corruption are being unfairly treated – because everyone is corrupt, especially Ramaphosa and others in his faction.

The events of the last few days illustrate exactly why Ramaphosa chose the moment that he did to force the NEC’s “line in the sand” decision. The events beforehand, in which he flew to Parliament to answer questions in person (while appearing very presidential) to give himself a head of steam into that session are now explained. He was aware that arrests were in the offing. And he wanted to be in a strong position if and when they happened (this does not mean that anyone told him this would happen, but it was obvious that it would happen).

It also explains why so many of those implicated in corruption – Zandile Gumede, Bongani Bongo and others – have not stepped down…  they were well aware of the precedent it would set.

However, the stakes are now incredibly high for the NPA too.

These arrests will lift some of the public pressure on the NPA to act. But its work will now be tested in court. One wrong move, one mistake, one victory by a defence attorney, and their reputation will be hugely damaged.

It cannot be overemphasised how important the reconstruction of the NPA is to our future as a nation state. Without the possibility of the corrupt being jailed, there is no way to stop corruption. Those who win power get money through corruption, and so retain power. Only the NPA can stop this cycle from dominating our politics.

The NPA is now, finally, giving the first signs that it has the ability to give our nation a glimpse of a better future. But strap on your safety belts – the pushback is likely to be immense. DM168

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  • Questions for the legally minded:
    1. can the ANC as a legal entity also be charged if it has received any of these ill-gotten gains in the guise of political donations?
    2. Can the DA also be charged if the property developers in Cape Town made political donations in lieu of favorable decisions such as the Tafelberg primary school sale or the Obsevatory/Riverclub environmental approval?
    3. Can the EFF as a legal entity be charged in the VBS case given that millions of the ill gotten gains went to the party in addtion to Malema & Shivambo?

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