State capture: Who will go to jail first?

Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: AFP)
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: AFP)

The country is waiting with bated breath for a new prosecutions chief to indict the state capturers. Why is it up to one person to force the NPA to do what they are constitutionally obliged to do, asks Adriaan Basson.

The extent to which South Africa was plundered by Jacob Zuma and his state capture cabal is forensically being laid bare at the Zondo commission of inquiry. 

Former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan's revealing testimony this week dispelled any notion that "state capture" is a myth dreamed up by big business and the media, as Zuma would have us believe. 

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Less than 100km away from where Zondo is conducting his captivating inquiry, a panel was interviewing candidates for the vacant position of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP).

These processes are intimately linked: the country is waiting with bated breath for a new prosecutions chief to indict the state capturers and have them locked up.

How did we get here and why is it up to one person to force the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to do what they are constitutionally obliged to do? 

For Zuma and his cabal to perfect state capture, particularly of Transnet, Eskom, SAA and Denel, they first had to neuter the law enforcement agencies to leave them alone. There is no point in setting up a massive looting scheme with vigilant detectives and prosecutors in your way. 

During Zuma's term, the Scorpions was closed down; the Hawks wasn't allowed to fly and the NPA became a shadow of its former glorious self. 

The Scorpions was arguably the most effective corruption-busting agency we ever had and President Cyril Ramaphosa and his new NDPP should seriously consider reinstating this capacity. For the first time, prosecutors and investigators were working together from scratch and they had the results to show. 

When the unit came too close to the fire (read: Zuma and former police chief Jackie Selebi), the ANC lost its appetite for a unit that was increasingly going rogue (read: exercising its duties without fear or favour).

Numerous ex-Scorpions found employment in the private sector and some die-hard detectives were transferred to the police to form the Hawks – effectively an amalgamation of the commercial crimes and serious and violent crimes units.

The unit took ages to take shape, but eventually Anwa Dramat and his team started making inroads into organised crime and corruption. Unfortunately for them, they were again scratching too close to the fire and when Dramat prioritised the Nkandla investigation, which would have implicated Zuma, he got the boot. 

He was replaced by the utterly incompetent and severely compromised Berning Ntlemeza. 

At the NPA, Zuma started off by bringing in Menzi Simelane – the nemesis of former NPA boss Vusi Pikoli – shortly after the Ginwala commission of inquiry found Simelane had lied to nail Pikoli.

Simelane didn't last long before the courts declared his appointment as irrational. He was ultimately replaced by Durban attorney Mxolisi Nxasana, but not after Nomgcobo Jiba dug in her heels as deputy NDPP and made sure she took "political" control of the authority. 

During this time, Jiba's career was saved by then justice minister Jeff Radebe after she was disciplined for arresting prosecutor Gerrie Nel on spurious charges, and Zuma expunged Jiba's husband criminal record after he had dipped into the trust funds held on behalf of clients.

This made Jiba politically pliable and a key pawn for the state capturers at the NPA. The full extent of her reign of terror will hopefully emerge during the inquiry into her fitness for the job. 

Dramat's fate also befell Nxasana: the moment he started to consider charging ANC politicians for corruption, he was booted out by Zuma, who blatantly used a dirty tricks campaign and intimidation to get Nxasana out of office. 

Next in office was Shaun Abrahams, on all accounts a solid senior state advocate but with very little political savvy and surprisingly naïve. When Abrahams played along with a dirty tricks campaign to taint Pravin Gordhan, he got burned.

Zuma was ultimately successful in paralysing the Hawks and the NPA into submission. Make no mistake – not every prosecutor or detective is captured or corrupt. But many of them, good men and women, were terrified to act against anyone seen as connected to the Zuma cabal out of fear for losing their livelihood. 

Many of them have children at school and mortgage bonds to pay. They enable the state capture project through fear.

The tide has turned, and Advocate Godfrey Lebeya is starting to fix things at the Hawks. He will need support – the upper echelons of the organisation are still filled with people who are either compromised or too scared to arrest the state capturers.

The NPA's time is coming soon with the appointment – hopefully – of a principled, fearless leader. 

There is certainly no lack of evidence. The Gupta leaks alone have provided the state with enough evidence to arrest and prosecute Zuma, the Guptas and a slew of former SOE bosses, private sector consultants and government officials who acted in accord to enable state capture.

And who will be jailed first? Lebeya need not look further than Zondo's hearings to start making arrests. Take your pick, general.

- Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanBasson

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