Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
30 March 2010

R.I.P. National Prosecuting Authority?

Ordinarily it is unwise to jump to conclusions based on unconfirmed news reports. At the same time, when those reports seem to confirm one’s worst fears and dovetail neatly with everything one knows about the person reported about, it is difficult not to assume the worst. I fear, I assume the worst about my old friend Menzi Simelane.

That is why The Mercury report that as many as five top prosecutors have been demoted, does not come as a shock at all. Reading the news report, my first reaction was: “Well, duhh, I told you so.” After all, when Menzi Simelane was purportedly appointed as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), I pointed out the blindingly obvious fact that he is a craven and unprincipled bootlicker of the powerful and wealthy. We know – because he had shown this himself – that he would do almost anything to please his masters.

Although the NDPP is constitutionally required to act without fear, favour or prejudice, Simelane has demonstrated a canny ability to act WITH fear, favour and prejudice when required to do so by the powerful wielders of political power. He was unfit for office when he was appointed as NDPP and he has proven himself unfit for that office over and over again after his appointment. (Only the President seemed to think differently at the time, but let’s face it, our President is not a very good judge of character and ability – after all, he befriended crook and fraudster Schabir Shaik!) President Zuma’s cynical and Machiavellian move to appoint Simelane as NDPP demonstrates that underneath the smiling and bumbling exterior, there is a rather unprincipled and ruthless man who is out to protect himself at any cost.

We all know that Simelane is a deeply flawed man whose ethical compass seemed to have gotten lost long ago – perhaps shortly after he first assumed a powerful position and started obeying orders from his party bosses. Many of us also feared that it would only be a matter of time before he destroyed any integrity the NPA might have had left. After all, he wrote a letter containing a criminal instruction to stop the arrest of the erstwhile police commissioner and disgraced himself before the Ginwala Inquiry by trying to hide evidence and by trying to mislead the Inquiry – only to be ruthlessly exposed as a liar under cross-examination by Advocate Wim Trengove.

He also decided to drop the case of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) against Fana Hlongwane, a well-connected businessman, who received millions from the arms deal and is a generous financial supporter of the ANC, despite the fact that the lawyers of the AFU believed they had a strong case against Hlongwana. The reasons given by Simelane for the dropping of the case are so absurd that they read like a Groucho Marx routine.

So, that is why I was not surprised to read that Simelane had purportedly demoted five senior prosecutors, an act that is expected to lead to major delays in court and may lead to legal action being taken. As The Mercury reports:

One of the men in the prosecution team in the rape trial of President Jacob Zuma has effectively been given the responsibilities of a clerk, says the report. Another chief prosecutor, Andre Lamprecht, with 33 years of experience, has been demoted to an ordinary prosecutor. Lamprecht, who was in charge of five courts in Soweto and the West Rand, was demoted after he refused to obey an instruction from Simelane not to oppose bail for hip-hop musician Molemo Jub Jub Maarohanye. Lamprecht, who is due to be replaced by Xoli Khanyile, is considering taking legal action against his ‘deployment’. Khanyile is currently a Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions in Gauteng.

If this is true, it is spine chilling stuff. If a prosecutor involved in the rape trial of President Zuma had really been demoted, it would suggest that Simelane is taking revenge on behalf of his political boss by demoting a prosecutor who merely did her work. It would make Simelane a thoroughly dangerous man. One assumes Simelane would present some half-baked reason for such moves. Some might even believe him. Given the fact that he has been economical with the truth before, I will be a bit more sceptical.

Then there is news from the Free State that three of the most senior Deputy Directors of Public Prosecutions in that province are heading back to the lower courts. Retha Meintjes SC, George Baloyi and Connie Erasmus have all been informed about their new duties in the Soshanguve, Mamelodi and Pretoria Magistrate’s Courts respectively. Meintjes is recognised internationally for her role in prosecuting cases of violence against children and women.

Baloyi is the provincial spokesperson of the NPA due to his seniority and Erasmus was involved in several disciplinary proceedings in the office of NPA head Menzi Simelane. The report says 11 of the most senior prosecutors will soon hear that they, too, are heading for the lower courts. NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke said the ‘moves’ are in line with the NPA’s policy to better the quality of prosecutions in the lower courts. Baloyi said he would comment ‘when the time is right’.

Sadly, I don’t believe a word of the explanation proferred by the NPA spokesperson. Sending the most senior prosecutors back to court is like sending the Vice Chancellor back to the class room or sending the Police Commissioner out on the beat. One usually only does this kind of thing if one wants to get rid of the person involved. My suspicion is that these people have been moved because they are either too competent or too ready to act without fear, favour or prejudice for the liking of the NDPP.

Given what we know of Simelane, and given his recorded statements about the role of the NPA and its relationship with the executive, it is difficult not to conclude that he is deliberately and ruthlessly destroying any independent capability in the NPA to ensure that the NPA remains politically pliant in order to protect powerful ANC politicians from prosecution. And then he wants us to trust him. Fat chance.

Wonder if Simelane ever has a cup of Motata tea with one Paul Ngobeni? Maybe they can get together to have a chat on integirty and ethics.

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