Shamila Batohi. Picture: GCIS/JAIRUS MMUTLE
Shamila Batohi. Picture: GCIS/JAIRUS MMUTLE

Institutions responsible for protecting citizens and delivering justice, including the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), are failing South Africans, the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi said on Wednesday evening, vowing action against the corrupt and the criminal.

Batohi, who was delivering the sixth Kader Asmal memorial lecture, paid tribute to the former minister as someone who was  dedicated to the fight for freedom, equality and justice until his death in 2011. She said these values “now unfortunately seem like a dream, a distant dream in the current context of the issues that our country faces”.

For too long, corrupt politicians, government employees and business leaders have acted almost with impunity to plunder the scarce resources of our country
Shamila Batohi, NDPP

Asmal served as a minister from 1994-2004 and in parliament up until 2007. While a member of the ANC, he became critical of a number of controversial decisions made by the party in recent years. Batohi said Asmal will be remembered for his unwavering integrity, from which she draws inspiration under current circumstances in which the “culture of integrity has been strained to breaking point and the rule of law tarnished almost beyond recognition”.

Batohi’s comments come at a time when serious crime is on the rise, including murder; factional battles threaten not only the ANC, but the government as a whole; a legal battle is raging between the executive arm of the state and a public protector found by the Constitutional Court to have been dishonest; and there have been increased public perceptions of corruption.

It also comes at a time when former president Jacob Zuma is unable and unwilling to answer or account for any of the corruption or wrongdoing that occurred during his term in office, and where the country hears explosive testimony in commissions of inquiry into the SA Revenue Service (Sars), the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and state capture.

“Corruption has become so widespread that there’s a real danger of it becoming entrenched and normalised in SA unless something serious doesn’t happen soon,” Batohi told the gathering in Sandton.

However, in order to tackle this scourge, the NPA itself has to get back on its feet. As observers have repeatedly stressed, crime-fighting institutions have been severely weakened in recent years, with the NPA resorting to private donor funding. And so far, not one of Batohi’s predecessors has concluded a full term.

Advocate Shamila Batohi delivered the 6th Kader Asmal annual lecture in Sandton on July 24 2019. The national director of public prosecutions touched on the current state of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and plans to take it forward.

Shortly after taking office in February, Batohi admitted that she underestimated the challenges facing the NPA. On Thursday, she described the picture as “bleak and unacceptable”.

She listed a range of challenges: leadership instability, allegations of impropriety and capture, a skills exodus, a loss of confidence in the leadership, undue political influence, and corruption.

To address this, Batohi said her vision for the NPA, which many prosecutors share, includes four pillars: independence, professionalism, accountability and credibility.

Before taking office, Batohi sat across a desk from President Cyril Ramaphosa where he gave her his word that the executive would not interfere in the work of the NPA. 

Batohi said she also wants the NPA to be a cutting-edge organisation, fully equipped to address SA’s challenges, while being transparent and accountable to the public it serves. She wants South Africans to be able to see the NPA’s efforts through actions and decisions, not speeches or media statements.

Batohi said while she is often asked why the NPA has not yet prosecuted a single individual for corruption, there had been a deliberate attempt in recent years to ensure that certain cases did not make it to court.

Two senior NPA employees accused of this sort of interference, advocates Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, were only removed from their posts recently.

As such, the appointment of a new NDPP does not mean cases suddenly become ready for prosecution. The NPA is suffering from both a staff and skills shortage and Batohi believes the only way to ensure those involved in wrongdoing are not only brought to book, but also that looted monies are recovered, is in co-operating with other bodies such as Sars, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), the private sector and civil society.

This battle, she said, will not be easy, but will assure perpetrators end up behind bars in “orange overalls”.

“For too long, corrupt politicians, government employees and business leaders have acted almost with impunity to plunder the scarce resources of our country,” said Batohi. “They have done so in plain sight and in the most brazen ways imaginable.”

South Africans yearn for a country where the rule of law is respected and upheld, victims receive justice and the rich and powerful are held accountable, Batohi said. She assured that while it will be hard and take time, she would not have returned from a “comfortable life in the Netherlands” if she did not believe things could be turned around.

“But you can forget about all this that I say, all I want to say is watch us and judge us by our actions,” concluded Batohi.

vandermerwep@businesslive.co.za


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