FIRST TAKE | We might not like it, but for Shamila Batohi it's steady as she goes

2019-11-20 14:05
National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi with Hermione Cronje. (Gallo Images, Phill Magakoe)

National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi with Hermione Cronje. (Gallo Images, Phill Magakoe)

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"It has been ten months," Shamila Batohi said with a barely audible sigh on Wednesday at the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) staid and grey head office in Silverton, Pretoria.

Batohi, who has been in office as the National Director of Public Prosecutions since February, has had a tough time of it. Public pressure on her and Hermione Cronje, the head of the NPA's crack Investigative Directorate, to initiate grand, sweeping prosecutions related to capture and corruption is increasing daily.

But it hasn't happened.

Despite everything in the public domain – all the news and investigative reports, the revelations in the trove of GuptaLeaks e-mails, as well as a number of books written on capture and corruption – no major cases have gone to court. This has led to increasing frustration and exasperation on the part of many South Africans in civil society and elsewhere who want to see accountability for the rampant looting of the state over the last decade.

And Batohi is "acutely aware" (her words) of the weight of expectation.

Reserved and cautious, as is the wont of the most senior prosecutor in the country, Batohi was careful to raise expectations during her considered and guarded engagement with journalists on Wednesday. (She said her style is to under-promise and over-deliver.)

She again detailed the anatomy of a broken organisation, saying the NPA lost 800 prosecutors since 2016 (and have replaced none), that it had to lobby for extra finance during the middle of a budget cycle (because it needed money) and that the Hawks were doing what they could to help (but that there was a dearth of good investigators).

Batohi has been careful in her public statements over the last months, only giving interviews on very specific and narrow matters and delivering a smattering of public speeches about the rule of law and recovering from capture. Her critics argue that she his harping on what is wrong and what isn't working, instead of focusing on the task at hand.

But judging from what both Batohi and Cronje said in Silverton on Wednesday, there seems to be a singular focus on doing exactly what their detractors want them to do: putting the perpetrators of state capture and the looting of state resources behind bars.

ALSO READ | Less talk and more action, vows NPA boss Batohi

Before they do that, however, they want to ensure that there are no loose ends or cracks in case dockets through which the devious and deceptive crooks who enabled corruption and stole public money can escape. South Africans, tired of hearing about thievery at Eskom and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, and numb to revelations at the state capture inquiry, might not like it, but Batohi isn't about risking another cock-up like the initial Estina withdrawal.

Added to that, Batohi is expecting any and all high-profile decisions to prosecute to come under attack from those in the state capture orbit. Already, there have been smear campaigns against her and Cronje, and the moment the NPA announces action in, say, the VBS Mutual Bank matter, there will be snipes about race and politics and assaults on personalities and process. It's inevitable. The NPA wants to mitigate against that type of fallout.

The NPA must ensure that big, symbolically important cases – think Eskom, for example – go to court as soon as possible. Prosecutors, however, have to win the thing in battle, and Batohi and her right-hand woman Cronje won't send them off to the High Court unless they are convinced of success.

Although both Batohi and Cronje were in good cheer – on the surface, at least – it was clear they believed that the depth and breadth of capture was overwhelming, that the extent of corruption was mind-boggling and the size of the patronage networks enormous.

"There are huge problems in the criminal justice system, people have lost faith that criminals will be held accountable for their crimes," Batohi said. "We have come across horrible instances in the NPA where big corruption cases have simply disappeared."

South Africans are desperate for accountability and justice.

Batohi and Cronje, however, won't go to court unless they know they can win.

And for now, there isn't anything winnable.

Read more on:    shamila batohi  |  hermione cronje  |  state capture

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