South Africa

BOOK LAUNCH

ID head Andrea Johnson pledges to prosecute people ‘who believe that accountability is like a myth’

ID head Andrea Johnson pledges to prosecute people ‘who believe that accountability is like a myth’
Kate Hofmeyr, Ferial Haffajee and Ivor Chipkin during a discussion at the launch of Ferial Haffajee’s book Days of Zondo. 06.10.2022. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

‘It is not going to be an easy task but we are going to prosecute those who believe accountability is like a myth.’ This was a promise made by advocate Andrea Johnson at Daily Maverick’s Days Of Zondo book launch on Thursday night.

Advocate Andrea Johnson has been head of the National Prosecution Authority’s Investigating Directorate (ID) for about eight months, but she assured the audience that she was up for the momentous challenge of prosecuting those implicated in the State Capture report.

Andrea Johnson addresses the panel during the launch of Ferial Haffajee’s book, Days of Zondo, on 6 October 2022. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

Johnson, who was appointed ID head by President Cyril Ramaphosa in February 2022, was among a large number of people at the debut launch in Johannesburg of Daily Maverick associate editor Ferial Haffajee’s book, Days of Zondo: The fight for freedom from corruption.    

“We are going to prosecute people who believe that accountability is like a myth… we are going to hold people accountable as we have to,” she said.  

The book documents proceedings of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, which comprised 429 hearings, 779 videos and more than a million pages of documentary evidence. It is the largest open investigation into corruption in the country and has dominated headlines for more than six years. In her final report as public protector (“State of Capture”) in November 2016, Thuli Madonsela had made a recommendation for a commission of inquiry. The final instalment of Zondo’s report was finally presented to President Cyril Ramaphosa on 22 June 2022, with his recommendations due to be tabled in Parliament this month.

‘Important milestone’

Former auditor-general Terence Nombembe, who chairs the Gauteng Ethics Advisory Council, described the book – which is a deep dive into State Capture and unravels a complex web of corruption and criminality – as an important milestone in South Africa’s history. 

Nombembe was among the speakers at the launch before Daily Maverick editor-at-large Richard Poplak opened the floor to the panel chaired by Zondo Commission evidence leader, advocate Kate Hofmeyr, with Haffajee and director of the Government and Public Policy think-tank, Dr Ivor Chipkin, who contributed to the book  

Johnson lauded several role players, including Madonsela who first recommended the creation of a State Capture inquiry in the wake of the #Guptaleaks, Haffajee for creating a narrative, and Hofmeyr.

From left, Kate Hofmeyr, Ferial Haffajee and Ivor Chipkin during a discussion at the launch of Ferial Haffajee’s book, Days of Zondo. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

“I don’t know what you ladies are thinking but you have now given me, who is supposed to be strong, the tools to action what has come out of State Capture. It is not going to be an easy task,” she said.  

Appeal for patience

Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Anton du Plessis, who was in the audience but took the podium briefly, argued that accountability was built over time and appealed for patience among South Africans. Things had started to shape up, he promised.   

The NPA had come under fire for its inability to successfully prosecute high-profile criminal cases, but this would soon change, he added. 

“The wheels of justice are starting to turn, they are turning slowly, not nearly as quickly as they have to, and we have come out of a difficult period.”  

Du Plessis vowed that the NPA would do its part, and called on journalists and civil society to keep holding them accountable. 

“Please be patient and know that we are getting the political support we need. We have the resources at this point, we are going to have to be bold and innovative in terms of how we do it.” 

He argued that there was a need for the NPA to partner with the private sector and civil society while protecting its independence.   

“And hopefully, in the coming months and years, you’ll see that the prosecutors are going to play their part… the credibility that was lost in the last nine years is going to be rebuilt.”   

Terence Nombembe at the launch of Ferial Haffajee’s book, Days of Zondo. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

Role of the media

Hofmeyr commended the work of investigative journalists as critical and indispensable in uncovering State Capture. The likes of Haffajee and News24’s Adriaan Basson had acted on information from whistle-blowers long before the inquiry.  

In the book, Haffajee says she felt ill-equipped at the time to deal with what was shown to her by the whistle-blowers, which Hofmeyr described as an interesting, revealing and honest admission. 


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“Unless you are capacitated, skilled enough to see this, you are always just going to work on the tip of the iceberg,” said Hofmeyer as she asked Haffajee what she thought society at large could do to better support investigative journalism and the media. 

In response, Haffajee spoke about the importance of investing in quality journalism, and cited Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s admission – in an exclusive interview – that the extent of State Capture had only been fully uncovered in only one of South Africa’s nine provinces – the Free State – and that it was likely that it had taken place in almost all of them.

“I do think the work of investigative journalism is indeed indispensable and for me the example of how News24, Daily Maverick and amaBhungane  dealt with the Gupta leaks is a fine example – it has to be a collaboration, not competition, it has to be philanthropically funded.” 

A women flips through a copy of Ferial Haffajee’s book, Days of Zondo, at the book launch. (Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

Recommendations

One of the proposals in the Zondo report – which was also discussed in the interview following the release of the final installment – was the creation of a permanent anti-corruption commission.  

Chipkin said he did not think such a body was a “very good idea”, when asked by Hofmeyr. 

“Some of the recommendations from the report are poor. I think the critique of Parliament is outstanding. We have to realise that State Capture needed so many people to be involved, so many to turn a blind eye, for so many people to collaborate,” he said. 

Leadership, not law enforcement

While the report’s recommendations include the criminal prosecution of several high-ranking officials, commissions of inquiry can only make recommendations for further investigation and for policy changes. 

Nombembe, however, argued that some of the findings did not require the intervention of law enforcement agencies, but leadership.  

“Some of the recommendations require proactive interventions by a leadership that I would characterise as courageous, leaders that are visionary and see beyond today and the past, otherwise we are going to go back to square one. Those recommendations require the leadership that doesn’t want to do anything else but what is morally right,” he said. DM 

Days of Zondo is now available at the Daily Maverick Shop. We deliver for free anywhere in South Africa.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Accountability is a myth until the courts prove otherwise, and to date, they haven’t proved they can prosecute the captains and enablers of state capture, so forgive my scepticism, madame Andrea et al, please prove me wrong before Jesus comes.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Corruption is not a solo crime. A program of sentencing “discounts” for coming forward and giving evidence against the other criminals would go a long way. Singh and Molefe were key enablers and neither strike me as brave…. They know where all the skeletons are buried! We are also not using the powers that SARS has. SARS does not need to prove that John got his R10m through corruption, merely that John’s assets do not correlate with his tax returns. 300% penalties plus interest and the very real sanction of jail sentence for tax fraud will instill more fear and encourage more plea bargains than the fear of perhaps after five years being found guilty of corruption.

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