Mcebisi Jonas. Picture: BD/Freddy Mavunda
Mcebisi Jonas. Picture: BD/Freddy Mavunda

Over the years, reports of how the criminal justice cluster was effectively doing the bidding of former president Jacob Zuma were the order of the day.

SA’s elite crime-fighting investigative unit, the Hawks, was seen more as a political warfare machine than a sweeping crime-fighting unit. This meant one had to connect the dots to see what was happening, even though the extent of Zuma’s control over the security cluster seemed clear.

The same could be said of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which only found its prosecutorial powers once Zuma was forced by the ANC to resign or face a motion of no-confidence. And there was a leadership overhaul at the State Security Agency (SSA) only when its ex-director- general, Arthur Fraser, tried to overplay his hand.

But something changed last Friday, when former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas sat down as the second witness at the commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg.

Jonas told the commission that one of the Gupta brothers, who has previously been identified as Ajay Gupta, threatened him with death if he spoke about a meeting at the family’s Saxonwold mansion in October 2015 — where, he said, he was offered the post of finance minister.

So we are in full control and the old man will do everything that we tell him to do
A Gupta brother (according to Mcebisi Jonas)

The details, for the first time heard out of his mouth, were hair-raising, particularly as he recounted the words the Gupta brother, whom he did not name, used to inform him of their particular type of power.

"You must understand that we are in control of everything; we are in control of the NPA; we are in control of the Hawks; we are in control of national intelligence; so we are in full control and the old man will do everything that we tell him to do. The old man wants to make you the minister of finance," Jonas said the Gupta brother told him.

The price for selling his soul would be R600,000 in cash with R600m more if he’d strip the Treasury of its institutional knowledge and help the family line its pockets.

Jonas said he refused and left, and confided in Pravin Gordhan (now public enterprises minister) and Nhlanhla Nene (then finance minister). He didn’t go to the police for the simple reason, he added, that he did not trust them.

The reason for the distrust was more than justified when Jonas dropped the bombshell that the Hawks had tried to force him to sign a prepared statement saying that he had nothing to say after the DA’s David Maynier and Cope’s Dennis Bloem laid criminal charges following a Sunday Times report on the alleged offer, and Jonas’s public statement essentially confirming this in March 2016.

Jonas recounted how Maj-Gen Zinhle Mnonopi of the Hawks had told him that the complaint, which he assumed was the one laid by Maynier, "was a DA matter" and that they "wanted to kill the case".

More than two years after he first stated in public that the Guptas had offered him a job, it was this extraordinary piece of information which was the first direct example of political abuse by the Hawks.

What it means

How the criminal justice system deals with the allegations will determine its credibility

Hawks head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya expressed "serious concern" at the allegations. The parliamentary portfolio committee on the police said it would ask the Hawks leadership for a briefing on the allegations the next time their paths crossed.

Since Cyril Ramaphosa became president, crucial moves in the criminal justice cluster have admittedly been made — such as moving Zuma’s henchman Fraser out of state security, as well as the launch of a high-level investigation into the SSA. The president has about 10 weeks left to appoint a new national director of public prosecutions after the constitutional court effectively fired Shaun Abrahams from the post. And it is hoped the Hawks, under the highly rated Lebeya, will stay clear of politics.

Meanwhile, the NPA and the Hawks have to save face and not let the prosecution of the Gupta-linked Estina dairy matter crumble. Last week the NPA was saved from an extremely embarrassing blow after the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court refused to strike the case from the roll, even though it reportedly described the delays as "reprehensible".

All the inquiries will, after all, remain mere inquiries if the allegations made in them are not tested in a criminal court. How the criminal justice cluster deals with the allegations of people such as a nervous Vytjie Mentor, Themba Maseko, Phumla Williams and others will determine its credibility for years to come.

Until then, South Africans will, like Jonas, not completely trust those who are tasked with protecting them.