South Africa

NPA REPORT

Prosecutions head Shamila Batohi ‘not prepared to discuss in Parliament’ why Hermione Cronje left Investigating Directorate, insists there’s no crisis

National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi. (Photo: GCIS / Flickr)
By Des Erasmus
08 Dec 2021 20

‘It is deeply disturbing that someone of advocate Cronje’s calibre has abandoned her project,’ says Parliament’s justice committee member Glynnis Breytenbach.

Frustrations were tangible among members of Parliament’s justice and correctional services committee on Wednesday when the National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi, delivered a report on the resignation of Investigating Directorate (ID) head Hermione Cronje and the continuity plan for the directorate.  

Committee member Glynnis Breytenbach, a former long-time senior state prosecutor, was characteristically blunt when asking questions of Batohi or commenting on Cronje’s resignation before the end of her five-year term.  

Breytenbach said she was “not convinced” by Batohi that there was no crisis at the prosecuting authority when considering Cronje’s leaving.  

“Advocate Cronje is not a faint-hearted woman, not by any stretch of the imagination. She knew what the job was when she signed up for it. She has a history in the NPA, she was a senior manager in the NPA for some time, so she knew what she was getting into. 

“I am not convinced by this suggestion that everything is hunky-dory and there are no issues, and her leaving is nothing odd and that in fact it is healthy to change horses in midstream, when we know it isn’t.  

“We don’t know why she has left, and we are left to speculate, and the national director is not telling us. It is deeply disturbing that someone of advocate Cronje’s calibre has abandoned her project — on which she has worked very hard — at great personal cost, half complete. It’s unlike her, and it leaves me deeply concerned… while it may well be healthy to change leadership now and then, this was a fixed-term contract, it was for five years,” said Breytenbach.  

The ID was proclaimed in April 2019, its mandate being to focus on “serious, high profile or complex” cases of corruption. Its budget for 2021 is about R107-million, but is expected to reach R180-million by 2022, according to Batohi. 

Cronje was not at the meeting, with deputy NDPP advocate Ouma Rabaji-Rasethaba giving an overview of cases being worked on by the directorate. It is Rabaji-Rasethaba who will be leading the “transition process” while Cronje prepares to leave office next year.  

Batohi had told the committee much of what she had said during a press conference on Monday. Cronje had left the ID “well positioned to deliver important results in the near future”. It was also a reasonably well-established unit now, Batohi added, with a reasonable budget. 

Cronje’s resignation had been a culmination of various factors, which she was “not prepared to discuss in Parliament”, said Batohi. 

In her written report to the committee, Batohi said there was an “incorrect narrative” that Cronje had left her post because the two did not get along. This made for “dramatic reporting” said Batohi, but “that is where it ends”.  

“In any high-stakes, high-pressure environment, there is bound to be tensions and professional conflicts. But we work through them, and advocate Cronje and I both have the interests of the country at heart,” she told the committee.  

The ID had to act with a sense of urgency, said Batohi, but would not respond to pressure, “as that is when we make mistakes, and we cannot afford to make mistakes”.  

The prosecuting authority has been under public pressure to explain the seemingly slow pace of high-profile fraud, corruption and racketeering cases, particularly those allegedly linked to State Capture under the administrations of Jacob Zuma.

It was during Zuma’s tenure that the NPA was considered “hollowed out” and politically manhandled to suit the needs and desires of the former president and his cronies.  

Commenting on the public frustration, Breytenbach said citizens were “impatient… and hungry for results… It’s not frankly good enough to keep telling us now that we must be patient, our patience has run out.” 

“We need to see people in court, we need to see prosecutions happening, we need to see people going to jail. It’s as simple as that. It’s not hard.” 

Breytenbach has repeatedly voiced concern over a lack of senior, specialised prosecutors at the NPA. To become a good prosecutor took 10 years, she told the committee, while to become a specialised prosecutor took 20 years.  

Advocate Anton du Plessis conceded that the NPA did not have “all of the skills needed” to prosecute complex graft cases and that “innovative ways” were needed to address this. 

He said another issue that had to be addressed was security of tenure at the ID, given that it was a temporary structure. The directorate currently had 120 staff members, said Du Plessis, and was looking to expand that to 200 by 2022. “Of those, hopefully more than 50 will be on the permanent structure.” 

It was hoped that the new structure would be signed off by March, he said.  

“We are going to be bringing across about 23 digital forensic capacities, six investigators and six team leaders [who worked at the Zondo Commission], that will be part of this organisation.”

According to Batohi’s report to the committee: “The ID has managed to enrol about 18 cases on the roll, 70% being criminal cases that are still being ventilated in court, while the balance is [Asset Forfeiture Unit] AFU-aided civil recovery matters.” DM

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  • Having watched both the press conference by the NPA on Monday, and then the NPA appearing before the portfolio committee on justice yesterday, I am slightly amused by the difference in quality of questions and comments by the press vs. that of the portfolio committee. The probing questions/comments by journalists on Monday was far superior to that of members of the portfolio committee. That being said, here is my take on the virtual meeting of the NPA and the Minister of Justice with the portfolio committee:
    1. Minister Ramola only appeared for a few minutes, basically saying nothing, but accusing some of the portfolio committee members of “playing politics”. To say he was useless will be an overstatement.
    2. Most of the committee members spoke about the TRC cases like the “Cradock 4”, as if that should be the highest priority of the NPA. Considering the cases are more than 20 years old, and nothing was done during the Mbheke and Zuma administrations. Suddenly Batohi and her team must now stop everything to investigate and prosecute TRC cases, when it appears that there was political interference. Some of these committee members can hardly articulate themselves…presumably cadre deployment.
    3. Glynnis Breytenbach of the DA made some very valid points, but she was very sceptical and critical of the NPA. My question is, if she is so wonderful and knowledgeable (with a long history at the NPA), why is she not joining the NPA again, rather that sucking her thumps at the DA?

    • Breytenbach applied for the job, calling it a dream job, but withdrew as she became DA politician as she said the perception would be she would not be impartial.

      • Glynnis is a prosecutor, and a very good one. Sitting in Parliament surrounded by incompetent cadres is hardly the job of a prosecutor. Even Ramola showed his disdain by simply walking out after 20 minutes, citing a “more important engagement”. So did Glynnis made any real contribution, like for example suggesting that parliament increase the budget of the ID substantially, or that the remuneration of prosecutors be increased to bring it more in line with defence lawyers or advocates? Of course not. Easier to blast everyone in a typical opposition party political speech

  • Coen, Glynnis Breytenbach has said that she’ll go back to the NPA in any capacity but they haven’t invited her. I think they are scared that she will show them up. I think the blockage in the NPA is Batohi. Just too inexperienced and zero management experience and too keen to ingratiate herself with the powers that be. Let’s just say that it suits the ANC to have someone ineffective in job and that continually says that she’s on top of things but doesn’t have a clue. As for Ronald Lamola, he’s just like CR – there to occupy space.

    • Well, we don’t know Charles whether they invited her or not. But regardless, people like her and Gerrie Nel will strengthen the NPA a lot, even if it not in a full time capacity. But sitting on the side line and smearing the NPA is not helping anyone, unless you are one of the implicated. Batohi? Well, its not as if the other candidates were that incredible. To the contrary. After all, the interviewing process was very trancparent, and broadcast live for all to see. I am not defending Batohi, but is there anyone else?

      • I take a very simplistic view on this and that is when none of the candidates are suitable one has to go back and rethink what one is looking for. If one has weakness at the top then it just compounds down the line. Having said that I think that the NPA needs to talk about their successes. I believe that some of the people that featured in Zondo are already in orange overalls but no one is talking about who they are or what they did.

    • Charles, have you ever read the CV of Batohi? “Inexperienced and zero Management experience” and the rest of your sentence. If you open this post you will see an article about Batohi when she was appointed. And virtually all the media agreed she was by far the best qualified, and experienced of the final list of candidates. Me, I think this particular comment of you is, well, simply zero-based!

  • There are strong parallels between the SA justice system and that of the US. Both systems are under pressure to handle a large number of politically linked cases involving treason, corruption, theft and murder. Although the good intent and competence of most members of the system (judges, prosecutors, etc) is not in doubt, strategic appointments made by previous regimes (Zuma & Trump) and some current political appointments are deeply troubling — to put it mildly. In both countries public impatience has been growing at the slow pace of indictments, court appearances and prosecutions.

    There are, of course, several differences but the most important one is finance. If gross corruption had not robbed the public purse of so much money (and is still seemingly doing so in many quarters) there would be more funding available to effectively fight corruption. In order to uplift the poor in the future, perhaps we ought to channel less money to them now in order to ensure a more effective justice system. These seem to me to be hard tradeoffs that need to be made.

    • A big difference between SA and the US is that in the US top law graduates are clamouring to get into the DEA’s office because of the experience that they can get. Here the best law graduates apply to the top law firms or train as advocates and generally, but not in all cases, the also-rans apply to the NPA where they languish because they are not being mentored properly. I’m not a prosecutor or lawyer so I’m certainly no expert but I can say that when I left university a lot of really good people went to the NPA but only stayed long enough to get the necessary experience.

      • Charles. Basically we all agree. Reality is the State Capture and other complex corruption cases are not easy to prosecute. In many cases those implicated have so much money they can finance the whole of the NPA. And the cases just do not move forward, as the accused simply buy the best defence attorneys and all playing the Stalingrad game. A case in point, the Zuma case. And the same will happen with the Magashule case. And the list is endless. Lets take the Bushiri case, a case of pure fraud and corruption. An advocate (some blond women who also defended the drug lord Krejir, and both Koko and Molefi at the Zondo commission) defended him, and bail was granted. How can any prosecutor win if judges continuously provide bail, and the cases go on and on with endless postponements.
        Who want to be the NDPP? It too her two years just to get rid of Juba. How many Juba’sare there still at the NPA

  • The ID needs to be independent. It is virtually guaranteed that they are told which investigations are in-play and which are out of bounds. If you prepare a file for prosecution and it ends up sitting on a desk, what is the point?

    Cronje’s portfolio of investigations and files should be subject to an order that copies be lodged with Constitutional Court and an independent international escrow agent. Top of the pile must be a list of files recommended for prosecution, the date, and present status. Clock ticks from when recommended for prosecution.

    We have a system of private prosecutions. The Cronje files should be made available to lawyers seeking to institute private prosecutions when the clock runs out on prosecution and private prosecutions are permitted.

    • Fully support your comment. The sad thing is that the NPA was suppose to be independent. However, private prosecutors? How many are there? Gerrie Nel? Anyone else? Even Glynnis want to play a politician now, and really she is not very good in that. Fact is, it pays to be a defence lawyer. Zero accountability. I know in a country like South Korea most prosecutors are actually private. And it works. They take on cases just like defence attorneys. Brains vs Brains. South Africa? Simply too much money for the defence lawyers. Prosecutors do not stand a chance in complex cases in this very unfair society, where crime pays!

  • She was set up as a patsy by Ramaphosa,who is covering the backends of all the corrupt ANC cadres.
    It’s all a big sham to divert criticism but as we see, corruption hasn’t stopped under his watch in some cases it’s got worse. The two top police imbeciles are still there after 4 months. Sitole was supposed to be removed but hey he’s still there working for Zuma.

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