EDITORIAL: Finally, a taste of justice over state capture
The arrest of a former cabinet minister is hopefully the first of many by the NPA
On the second last Thursday of November the arrests came in thick and fast as the police’s elite Hawks investigating unit swooped across the country.
For a long time the Hawks acted more like vultures with a political goal, instead of acting on what clearly amounted to a crime.
So it is no small deal that Bongani Bongo, ANC MP and chairperson of parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs, handed himself over to the Hawks on Thursday morning after he was requested to do so.
The former state security minister’s alleged attempt to bribe the evidence leader of parliament’s inquiry into state capture at state-owned enterprises in 2017, finally came back to bite him.
Ntuthuzelo Vanara, evidence leader of the inquiry into corruption at Eskom, Transnet and Denel, alleged in 2017 that Bongo had offered him a “blank cheque” if he would suppress the investigation.
The mere offer of a bribe is part of the textbook definition of corruption, but for the longest time the state failed to pursue cases that would have been easy to prosecute, and which would have instilled trust in the police.
Bongo’s arrest on Thursday coincided with a predawn swoop across four provinces, including 10 people implicated in multimillion-rand tender fraud in the Amothole district municipality in the Eastern Cape.
And earlier this week, national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi told reporters that police commissioner Khehla Sithole has finally agreed to declassify a range of documents, which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) needs to reinstate corruption and fraud charges against former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and other officials.
While South Africans have become frustrated with the pace at which the investigations are taking place and the lack of prosecutions of those who brought the state to its knees, the events of the past week are grounds for cautious optimism. The proof will however be in the pudding — when a guilty verdict is made.
But it is clear that the NPA’s new leadership team has been cautious for a reason: it does not want another fiasco which will lead to charges being thrown out or people being allowed to walk as a result of shabby work. A judge can only make findings based on the available information.
The reality of state capture was that it brought the state to its knees, including law enforcement agencies tasked to maintain law and order. Rebuilding these institutions, like those in the rest of the state, is a daunting task.
It is therefore not surprising that it is only now that the first politician — Bongo — has made his way to the dock eight months after Batohi took the reins at the NPA. Both the NPA and the Hawks have had to deal with capacity constraints in terms of human resources and funding.
The NPA was given a boost in funding in the medium term budget policy statement, showing that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government s finally put its money where its mouth is in terms of the commitment to fighting corruption.
While the arrest of Bongo is the first real green shoot of the new dawn’s emphasis on fixing law enforcement, he is a small fry. All those who looted the state into bankruptcy, those who stole pensioners’ money at VBS Mutual Bank and those responsible for the collapse of companies such as Steinhoff, must make their way onto a charge sheet and into a court to answer for what they have done.
But if only for a moment, the events of Thursday might feel like an early Christmas for South Africans hungry for accountability.