Brian Molefe & Anoj Singh arrests: SA’s return to Justiceland will take an excruciatingly long time
The past few days have seen signs of renewed life in our criminal justice system and the institutions that support it, but for many millions of people in SA, there is still no evidence of the criminal justice system working for them.
A series of high-profile Gupta-linked arrests, the continued apparent success of the Special Investigating Unit, and the SA Revenue Service (SARS) investigation into the Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation’s gargantuan tax evasion (up to R3-billion) show that some accountability is returning to South Africa’s criminal justice system.
But, for many millions of people in our country, there is still no evidence of the criminal justice system working for them. Instead, the merciless data show that they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than during any time over the past 10 years, revealing the still massive underlying police weakness and the emasculation of our state.
On Monday, it was confirmed that the Hawks had arrested Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh. Both were found by the Zondo Commission to have been involved in State Capture and to have manipulated contracts for locomotives.
This appeared to make good on the promise from the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Shamila Batohi, that there would be arrests for serious crimes before the end of September.
ANC NEC member arrests? Not yet
Of course, it is not known at this point whether these arrests are the beginning of a long series or the endpoint for now. It may be important to note that the Hawks have not arrested a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee since the Zondo report was published. That’s despite the devastating findings against Mosebenzi Zwane, Bongani Bongo, Sfiso Buthelezi and others.
On Friday last week, SARS announced that it had been allowed to take control of the bank accounts and assets of the Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation.
It then emerged that at least R3-billion had been removed from the country illegally. And perhaps more startling than that was the revelation that bank transactions had been “deleted”.
The fact that SARS was able to get enough legally admissible information to convince a judge to allow it to take control of these assets shows that it is capable of dealing with complex and difficult money flows and that it can enforce the law when international criminals break it.
At the same time, there is even some accountability for people who have held very high office.
Last week, also on Friday, the Asset Forfeiture Unit was able to seize assets belonging to the former acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane.
He and others are accused of involvement in the “blue lights” tender saga, which saw top people in the police leadership violating tender regulations, allegedly for their own benefit.
At the same time, the past three years have seen numerous investigations by the Special Investigating Unit, with findings that have had political consequences. It is clear this organisation too is now having an impact.
Taken together, all these examples suggest that there is cause to celebrate, that the rule of law is becoming stronger.
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However, while these developments may be an important moment for some to celebrate, the recent past has shown just how long it can take for a trial to actually start.
Both the Zandile Gumede case and the Ace Magashule trial involve alleged corruption in government. Gumede was arrested in May 2019, and only last week did she plead not guilty to the indictment. Magashule was arrested in November 2020, but there too no witness evidence has yet been heard.
These arrests are an important first step, especially as our criminal justice system has been consistently weakened, coinciding with a sharp increase in violent vigilantism since at least 2013.
It is sometimes forgotten in the suburban conversations about crime how many acts of vigilantism now occur daily. As the Institute for Security Studies’ Lizette Lancaster has noted, the numbers are scary. From the 2018/19 financial year to the 2019/20 financial year, the number of murders attributed to vigilantism went up by more than 50%. Things have only become worse since.
This is, in part, driven by the massive increase in the number of murders. In June the SA Police Service released crime statistics for the first quarter of the year, which showed the murder rate was up by 22%. By any measure, this is indeed a frightening number, with way too often little or no accountability.
Meanwhile, organisations that used to be known as the “construction mafia” are now halfway through a process in which they appear likely to be able to legitimise their demands.
To be clear, these are groups which used violence to extort money from construction firms in KwaZulu-Natal since 2015. Then they spread to other provinces. And now one of their leaders, Malusi Zondi, says they have rebranded as the Black Business Foundation and are keen to get involved in business.
The scale of the damage caused by them was recently laid out by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. It spells out how extensive and disruptive these criminal groups have been.
So far, it seems, they are succeeding in their bid to enter formal business, and as News24’s Carol Paton reports, Zondi’s group even won contracts to provide face masks to the Department of Health during the pandemic.
By using violence, these groups have been able to amass money and political power and force their way into legitimacy.
This is not hidden from view — it is common knowledge playing out in public.
This is surely a complete victory for violence and a complete defeat for the rule of law.
All of this suggests that despite the important progress in prosecuting people accused of corruption and the possible improving impact this will have on our politics, for many people, violent crime and the threat of violent crime are actually likely to get worse.
As will the incentive to indulge in violent crime.
Arresting the apex corrupt politicians and their henchmen will certainly help, but the road to any kind of normality remains South Africa’s distant dream. DM