Ralph Mathekga: Bongo's arrest no high profile state capture case

ANC MP and former minister Bongani Bongo. (Adrian de Kock, Netwerk24)
ANC MP and former minister Bongani Bongo. (Adrian de Kock, Netwerk24)

It is a stretch to say Bongani Bongo's arrest is a high profile state capture arrest. He is not even a high profile politician; he is merely a low level fixer who was inexplicably appointed to Cabinet by Zuma, writes Ralph Mathekga.

When government institutions are beginning to do the right thing after a spell of wrongdoing, the nation should not stop asking the tough questions.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) under the leadership of Advocate Shamila Batohi has begun to do a good job by investigating high profile corruption cases involving politicians. Recently, we were treated to the first instalment of what we are told is to come; a sweeping roundup of those who are involved in grand theft.

The arrest of member of Parliament and former minister of state security Bongani Bongo on charges of bribery and fraud renewed the belief that the NPA can do its job. On the day Bongo was arrested, the prosecuting authority extended a hand of justice to the Amathole District Municipality in East London, arresting ten people in relation to the toilet tender scandal in the Eastern Cape, a province that was an early beginner, so to speak, in practising the art of corruption in post-apartheid South Africa.  

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In the same week that the NPA announced those high-profile arrests, it also announced that it will prosecute On Point Engineering; a Julius Malema-linked company accused of benefitting from tender irregularities in Limpopo during the Zuma years. The NPA also decided to prosecute EFF leader Malema in relation to assaulting a police officer at a public gathering.

This picture looks very good and indeed the NPA is at work under Batohi. However, it is important to ask if the NPA is showing enough firmness and confidence in acting against political big wigs implicated in wrongdoing.

It is likewise important to ask if the recent announcement of high profile prosecutions are indeed high profile cases, or if the NPA is targeting low level foot soldiers while the real political big wigs are still treated with kid gloves. 

While it is refreshing to see the NPA doing its job, analysis of the cases pursued shows that it is being tactful on which cases should be pursued. The logic of the strategy, as I see it, is to start with lower level cases with the expectation that such cases will have a domino effect that would bring down political heavyweights. This approach would paint the NPA as politically tactful, instead of pursuing justice with no fear or favour.

A quick look at the cases that are being pursued shows that the NPA is not yet willing to use the might of the law openly without fear.

It seems to be playing coy by selecting cases very carefully with the intention not to directly confront those who are politically connected. By so doing, the NPA seems to be banking on the idea that once the lower level collaborators are successfully prosecuted, the big wigs will remain isolated and their prosecution will be inevitable. Interestingly, the crimes that are being prosecuted seem to be secondary or of misdemeanour nature compared to what some believe are core matters that need to be prosecuted. I want to go through the recent cases, and show that they are not major and were selected to manage the politics around the prosecution.

Bongo's case is interesting. In the reports that have surfaced, it is said that he is being prosecuted in relation to state capture. That is not correct. I recently responded to a British journalist who asked me if Bongo's arrest is currently the most high profile prosecution in relation to state capture. Bongo's arrest has to do with fraud and bribery in relation to investigations into Eskom. This is a case about bribery during an investigation into wrongdoing. We should note that as we speak Bongo is not facing charges related to state capture; he is rather facing charges on bribery.

It is a stretch to say Bongo's arrest is a high profile state capture arrest. He is not even a high profile politician; he is merely a low level fixer who was inexplicably appointed to Cabinet by Zuma. That's just about it.

Bongo is no highflyer in my world. He is surely disposable as a politician. While his arrest is important to show that justice can be done, this is not an arrest related to the substantive matter of state capture. It is rather about a matter that is peripheral to state capture.

The decision by the NPA to prosecute On Point Engineering while not pursuing charges against Malema's controversial family trust fund is further worrying. Why would the NPA go after a low level company that may have been engaged in impropriety while at the same time leaving big wig Malema untouched?

The NPA stated it might prosecute Malema later, of course if evidence emerges. It is clear that it does not want to confront him on allegations that his family trust benefitted improperly from money flowing from tenders. By going after those implicated in the On Point matter, the NPA is tactfully avoiding confronting Malema, hoping his prosecution would become inevitable once lower level cases are dealt with.

Everybody knows that in relation to this matter, the NPA's hand was forced by AfriForum which is set to privately prosecute Malema in all matters where the state fears him.     

As for the arrest of those involved in tender scandals in the Mathole municipality, that's hardly an achievement on the side of the NPA. Tender fraudsters are all over the municipality. Removing ten suspected fraudsters is a good move but it is not an indication of resolve.

Prosecution should be about acting without favour or fear of political backlash. The NPA is yet to show that!

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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