EDITORIAL: The end of accountability
It’s a terrible message: you can pillage the fiscus and kill without consequence. But cross our politicians, and the dogs of war will be let loose
It’s a barometer of SA’s slide that whereas the country once had criminals quaking at the sight of the mighty Scorpions, we now have a rabble who believe their main job is to act as private security for cretinous politicians.
It was in 2008, a year before Jacob Zuma was sworn in as president, that parliament voted to abolish the Scorpions (conviction rate: 93.1% at one stage). In their place we got the Hawks — a feeble replacement and a national embarrassment.
This weekend it emerged that the Hawks had "swooped" to arrest Noma Gigaba, the wife of one-time finance minister and Candy Crush enthusiast Malusi Gigaba, for daring to scratch a car during a spat. The crack investigators also wasted no time in cuffing a woman who’d had an affair with deputy finance minister David Masondo, after he’d arranged to pay her to make it all go away.
Quite how either of these run-of-the-mill abuse of power situations would qualify for attention from the "top cops" is anyone’s guess. But since they’re not arresting any of the wider Gupta network for any of the state capture larceny, or anyone involved at Steinhoff or Tongaat Hulett or EOH, maybe they had time to kill.
It’s a terrible message: you can pillage the fiscus and kill without consequence. But cross our politicians, and the dogs of war will be let loose.
As Masondo’s ex-lover told amaBhungane: "David having me … thrown in jail for nothing was one of the most violent acts I have experienced."
This is a situation that should haunt every one of the ANC members of parliament who voted to abolish the Scorpions, back in 2008.
It’s not like they weren’t warned. Patricia de Lille, then leader of the Independent Democrats, said South Africans were "not stupid" and would know the ANC’s "true motives". The IFP’s Koos van der Merwe called it a "day that will live in infamy", with the decision being "reckless political expediency" to protect ANC leaders from criminal investigation. The DA warned that agencies all over the world would hire the best prosecutors from the disbanded organisation.
The ANC ignored them, just as it ignored the 98,000 signatures and 7,978 written submissions calling for the Scorpions to be retained.
It was predictable, if obviously corrupt. As law professor Pierre de Vos pointed out, among those who voted to abolish the Scorpions were more than 100 MPs who’d been investigated for their role in the Travelgate scandal.
If you want a sense of how desperate things are when it comes to law enforcement, Hermione Cronje, head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) corruption-focused independent directorate, told the FM: "I am a South African — I understand the frustration. I feel it too."
Consider this: three years after the media published widespread revelations from the Gupta leaks, Cronje’s directorate still hasn’t got those files.
She speaks hopefully of bringing another case against the Guptas and government officials over the theft of state money that was supposed to go to the Estina dairy project in the Free State. The first case was bungled, spectacularly, after investigators confused the bank accounts they were looking at. Now, years later, the Guptas are in Dubai.
Due to a lack of skills and confidence, the Hawks are unable to tackle the real crimes. So they are more likely to be spotted policing the little black books of SA’s politicians.
It speaks of an epic failure to assess the true priorities, which mirrors a similar weakness in the ANC. The ANC’s integrity commission has recommended that Masondo, the heir apparent to Tito Mboweni as finance minister, step down from all his positions. "Your actions have brought disrepute to the organisation," the commission said.
It may be the right move — yet it seems incongruous that secretary-general Ace Magashule remains untouched. It remains incongruous that Mosebenzi Zwane, a Gupta apparatchik, and Faith Muthambi, accused of leaking cabinet memos to the Guptas, both remain members of parliament.
It’s disingenuous for the ANC to be "shocked" at Covid-19 corruption. The party got exactly what it wanted when it voted to abolish the Scorpions in 2008: the end of accountability.
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