The spate of arrests this week of government officials, private contractors and a few politicians allegedly involved in corruption sent a shiver down the spines of many others who know they are guilty but have so far avoided prosecution.
The Hawks arrested individuals implicated in the R255 million asbestos eradication project in the Free State. Only a tiny portion of the money went to actual service delivery, while the rest lined private pockets. Much of the evidence related to this case was presented to the Zondo commission, and it was one of many cases where an impatient public asked why there were no arrests when so much prima facie evidence existed.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo last year even asked why there had been no prosecutions related to revelations made before him in the commission. The Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have been heavily criticised over the past few months for making promises but failing to pounce.
So the arrests this week did not only scare the alleged looters and thieves, but they also sent positive signals to South Africans in general that the days of impunity are coming to an end. Also in court was former ANC MP Vincent Smith, charged with corruption involving the Bosasa scandal.
Logically, the next question is: How far are the police and the NPA prepared to go when cracking down on corruption?
There has been an outcry that authorities have been quick to act on government officials, but much less enthusiastic to tackle politicians. We can only hope that the arrests are a positive signal that more are still coming. We hope that these arrests were not simply a public relations exercise executed to calm a society tired of unending corruption.
The arrests and prosecutions must also be free of suspicion of political influence. All criminals, irrespective of the ANC faction they belong to, should feel the full might of the law. It is only when the law is applied equally and evenly that we can restore faith in our law enforcement agencies. Otherwise, it is very easy for all the hard work by law enforcers to be dragged into the political arena.