Publication: Financial Mail Issued: Date: 2003-09-12 Reporter: Peter Honey

Beware Red Herrings



Financial Mail

Date 2003-09-12


Peter Honey

Web Link


Political tricksters must not be allowed to divert attention from the key issue: arms deal corruption

If national prosecutions chief Bulelani Ngcuka was indeed a spy for the apartheid government, should we doubt the integrity of his investigations into deputy president Jacob Zuma and his cohorts' shenanigans in the arms deal?

An outsider might say: "Of course not, the two issues are unrelated." But then explain to our neophyte the arcane machinations of the ANC; how struggle-era politics continues to influence party currents and factions.

Point out how the very people now driving the overt and covert campaign against Ngcuka - Zuma, Mac Maharaj and the Shaik brothers, especially Schabir, Moe and Chippy - were once leading lights in the ANC's intelligence service, and ran the party's secret campaign, Operation Vula, to re-establish leadership structures in SA in the early 1990s. Maharaj himself says he ran the spy investigation into Ngcuka. These same people, most of whom have been shown to be linked through questionable financial dealings, are also the prime subjects of the investigation into arms deal corruption by Ngcuka's special policing unit, the Scorpions.

By now the scales should be falling from our observer's eyes; for it is clear politics and the arms deal are inseparable. Ngcuka himself has accused "comrade criminals" of trying to discredit him in order to cast doubt on his motives for probing Zuma and others.

The ANC is now infused with those doubts, doubts that have aggravated old rifts such as that between former exiles and United Democratic Front elements of the party. Some of these resentments stem from the Vula days when exiles asserted their power in uniting the two movements.

Sowing doubt about Ngcuka's motives is the clear intention of the shadowy figures behind the leak of purported national intelligence documents to City Press at the weekend.

Note that the report does not peg Ngcuka as a spy; he was investigated on suspicion of being one - a suspicion never proven. Maharaj told an SAfm radio interviewer this week that evidence from his inquiry had convinced him Ngcuka must have been a spy. But how conclusive is that? In the late 1980s ANC leaders were so paranoid about apartheid infiltrators that they were throwing suspects who may have been innocent, along with confessed agents, into the notorious dungeons of Quattro in Angola and elsewhere.

Ngcuka labels the spy claim a lie and says he will sue City Press and Maharaj. But the damage is done, for it is nearly impossible to clear oneself of insubstantial spying allegations. It must be especially hurtful for Ngcuka, for he was suspected of spying on his old mentor, Griffiths Mxenge, the anti-apartheid lawyer for whom he clerked in the 1970s and who was subsequently murdered by security police, as was his wife, Victoria. Ngcuka has enshrined their images in his Pretoria headquarters, even naming it after them.

But he should not be seen as simply an innocent victim of political chicanery or, as he maintained this week, a purely independent servant of the law. For he himself has used politics as a lever in the investigations and must share some blame for allowing it to overshadow the investigation.

That said, though, there is nothing to substantiate claims by Zuma allies that Ngcuka did so in an attempt to destroy the deputy president's career.

Ngcuka has done a remarkable job in developing the National Prosecuting Authority and the Scorpions to fight organised crime over the past five years. His tactics of high-profile, publicised arrests and of tipping off selected journalists about impending cases have been questioned, but condoned. But he has never before used political manoeuvres to the extent that he has in the Zuma case. It's as if the political sensitivities have rattled him, stirring his politician's instinct in his own defence.

For example, this week he said that if the ANC disapproved of his actions he would gladly step down as national prosecutions director.

But surely it is the state, not the party, to which he is answerable.

Then, on August 23, when announcing he had "a prima facie case of corruption" against Zuma but would not bring charges because it was "not sufficiently winnable", he was in effect declaring guilt while abrogating the court's, and the accused's, right to test the facts in court.

In late July, after the smear campaign against him had begun, Ngcuka called the country's foremost black newspaper editors to his office, showed them details of the case against Zuma, explained that though there was evidence of corruption, the case was legally weak, and asked for their support. When word of this leaked to the ANC, it prompted a strident attack on Ngcuka from party secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe.

A few days earlier Ngcuka had taken issue with the courts when he told a newspaper interviewer he thought the fraud sentences of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni were "excessive". Both were found guilty of defrauding parliament.

Are Ngcuka and the Scorpions' investigation into Zuma and the arms deal now so contaminated by politics that it precludes a fair trial? Probably not. But it could become so if the politicking persists. It is important for the director of public prosecutions to act, and be seen to act, without fear or favour.

No matter the political sensitivities, the Zuma and Shaik cases must be handled as if they were any other investigation. It is not the Scorpions' role to determine innocence or guilt; if a prima facie case exists, send it to court.

Given the history of personal attacks on Ngcuka in the past several weeks, and the fact that other, unpublicised, allegations against him remain in circulation, it is possible that some of these may surface publicly as the political fight ensues. Any new embarrassment now could still force him from office.

It is imperative, though, that such concerns do not derail the central objective - the investigation into whether anyone used their position or influence to fraudulently enrich themselves from the state's purchase of strategic armaments.

With acknowledgements to Peter Honey and the Financial Mail.