National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi. Picture: ALON SKUY
National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi. Picture: ALON SKUY

Make no mistake, the arrest of KwaZulu-Natal businessman Thoshan Panday is a big deal. An ally of former president Jacob Zuma, Panday was virtually untouchable. Which is why, perhaps, it has taken so long for the case to progress to court, even though the allegations relate to the 2010 World Cup.

A report in the Mail & Guardian in 2015 showed how moves to investigate Panday had led to the departure of Hawks boss Anwar Dramat and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Mxolisi Nxasana, and the suspensions of Independent Police Investigative Directorate head Robert McBride and KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen.

The Panday case epitomises the decline of high-level institutions, including the Hawks and the police. In Booysen’s case, he told the state capture commission he was ordered to drop the probe into Panday by then KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner, Mmamonnye Ngobeni. Her luck also ran out this week, when she too was arrested.

Edwin Sodi is another swell catch, with wider implications. The case against the tenderpreneur is a textbook example of how state procurement is in need of a radical overhaul — and why political party funding, if we’re serious about clean governance, ought to be transparent and regulated.

Then there is former ANC MP Vincent Smith, who handed himself over to the police last week, and was released later on R30,000 bail. Smith is alleged to have accepted a bribe from controversial facilities management firm Bosasa.

All of which is commendable progress in ensuring accountability. And yet, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this surge of activity by our somewhat moribund criminal justice system is a sign they’ve inexorably turned the corner.

There are two reasons for this. First, there has not yet been a high-profile political or private sector arrest (think Ace Magashule or Markus Jooste).

Picture: 123RF/mozart3737
Picture: 123RF/mozart3737

Second, we’ve been here before. In August 2005 the Directorate of Special Operations (the Scorpions) raided Zuma’s Forest Town home. What followed that dramatic morning is a whirlwind that led to the severe weakening of the justice system, beginning with the disbanding of the Scorpions in 2008.

Zuma’s ascent to the presidency in 2009 was on the back of a flawed decision by the NPA’s then acting head, Mokotedi Mpshe. More than 10 years later — amid hollowed-out state institutions, a limping economy, rampant corruption and a governing party with zero moral authority — that case has yet to be concluded.

While the Zuma example is an extreme one, considering the lengths to which he has gone to avoid his day in court, who is to say the current arrests will end in rapid convictions and sentences harsh enough to act as a deterrent?

And again, there is little to suggest that sections of the ANC will behave any differently towards the arrest of high-profile leaders this time around.

Who can forget that the entire governing party mobilised against the state — the Scorpions and the NPA — to protect one man? It was at that moment that the ANC’s moral authority vanished.

Already, there is disturbing noise from Magashule’s closest and most vocal supporters, the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, aimed at mobilising party members to fight back once the heads of bigwigs begin to roll.

It’s time that South Africans realise that the ANC is no longer the wayward but lovable drunken uncle with the capacity to change his ways; rather, it’s the sex offender next door, eager to hide what it does from scrutiny, so that it can keep on doing it.

Yes, the arrests are a step in the right direction for NPA head Shamila Batohi. But how quickly the cases are concluded and how the ANC reacts to a high-profile arrest will determine if we have turned a corner in tackling corruption. If we see leaders indulging in conspiracies, mobilising members outside court, tampering with institutions and politicising judicial processes, it’ll mean nothing much has really changed, except for the cast of characters.

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