Publication: The Star Issued: Date: 2004-07-26 Reporter: Jeremy Michaels

'Bul' Will Live on After Shaik and Zumagate



The Star

Date 2004-07-26


Jeremy Michaels

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Nowadays, Bulelani Ngcuka resembles a "stirred, not shaken" Martini.

He still plays golf "once a fortnight or so" and enjoys watching rugby, cricket and other sports on TV.

But how, sitting in the hot seat, has the national director of public prosecutions found time for all that?

"I have to make time - if you don't make time, you go crazy," he says in a slightly sombre tone, perhaps giving away more than he would want to.

After his appointment on August 1, 1998 Ngcuka was quietly getting along with the task of building a formidable law enforcement agency of which South Africans could truly be proud.

Then, just as Ngcuka's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was taking shape and gaining a solid reputation, along came Jacob Zuma and Schabir Shaik.

The sentiments of his two sons nicely sum up the impact of "Zumagate" on their dad's job: "They liked it at the beginning, they enjoyed it, but they don't enjoy it anymore - they don't like seeing their father on television every day."

Ngcuka had always been somewhat of an obscure figure in South African politics: popular among lawyers and politicians, but not very well known by the country's masses.

Ultimately accountable for the work of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Scorpions and prosecutors across the country, to name but a few, Ngcuka seemed to be content with making the occasional appearance at public events while guiding the NPA from behind the scenes.

But all that changed at a press conference in Pretoria on August 23 last year.

Ngcuka was catapulted into the limelight - and controversy - when he said there was a prima facie case of corruption against Deputy President Zuma but, contrary to the opinion of the Scorpions, he would not be prosecuted because it was not certain that the case was "winnable".

In the year since then, Ngcuka has struggled to keep his ship afloat. He was called an apartheid-era spy; he has been vilified by the powerful trade union federation Cosatu; many in the ruling African National Congress have turned against him; rumours that he will soon be leaving with his tail between his legs were given credence by his spokesperson's confirmation on Sunday that he has tendered his resignation; and his family has suffered immensely.

Sitting in his spacious office in the Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge Building - the NPA's headquarters in Pretoria - last week, the strain of Zumagate, and keeping the NPA going, was all too evident. His eyes were weary and he was hardly the jovial, starry-eyed "Bul" that his friends and comrades of old once knew.

Ngcuka's sons, too, while "very, very proud" of his achievements, have given their dad a piece of their minds.

"Those kids grew up when I was in and out of prison, so they are used to these things. But, of course, they don't enjoy it. If I was only to consider them, I should have long left this office."

In the midst of a mighty political storm, the captain of this ship has been steering the course.

"We want to ensure that there is rule of law, that rule of law is entrenched - that is what we are striving for, that's what we come here to do every day," Ngcuka says.

Black-and-white photos of the Mxenges, the husband-and-wife struggle heroes who were both assassinated in the 1980s, loom large in the foyer where Ngcuka and his staff enter every day.

"We want people to be free to do what they want to do, to enjoy their lives; that's why we want to ensure that there is justice. We have named this building after them because it is those ideals that inspire us, the ideals that they died for."

It was with the law firm GM Mxenge and Associates in Durban that Ngcuka started his first job as an articled clerk on April 1, 1978.

He was admitted as an attorney two years later, and rose through the ranks of the ANC to become one of its most respected cadres - former president Nelson Mandela appointed Ngcuka as the first head of the NPA in 1998.

Ironically, it was one of Mandela's favourite sons in the ANC, Zuma, who led the charge against Ngcuka after his prima facie statement.

Mac Maharaj and Mo Shaik, former operatives under Zuma when he was head of the ANC's intelligence unit during the 1980s, charged that Ngcuka had been a spy for the apartheid regime - prompting President Thabo Mbeki to set up the Hefer Commission.

The spy allegations were trashed in front of retired judge Joos Hefer, but Zuma turned to Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana with a complaint that Ngcuka had abused his power.

Mushwana found in Zuma's favour, charging that Ngcuka's prima facie statement was "unfair and improper" and that it had violated the deputy president's constitutional rights.

But Ngcuka is unrepentant.

Zuma, he says, must feel aggrieved with the indictment against his legal adviser, Schabir Shaik, not with the statement that there was a prima facie case against him.

The indictment charges that Zuma received R1,1-million from Schabir Shaik or his companies.

Ngcuka said the indictment was part of a legal process - Schabir Shaik had to be served with the indictment handed to the Durban High Court two days after the prima facie statement, and that was the law of the land.

"Therefore he (Zuma) must feel aggrieved with the law, not with me... and for as long as I sit in this office, I will continue to apply that law, whoever the person is," Ngcuka says firmly.

I ask Ngcuka whether the outcome of Schabir Shaik's trial in October has any bearing on whether he will stay in his job.

"No it doesn't!" he snaps.

"A decision has been taken and it's a decision that's correct in law and it's morally correct. What happens in October does not influence me at all. Whether Schabir Shaik is found guilty or not, it's nothing that I'll derive any pleasure from, personally, because I have nothing personal against them," he says in apparent reference to both Schabir Shaik and Zuma.

The case against Schabir Shaik might not even proceed in October, according to Ngcuka.

"It may take another two or three years before the matter is finalised. You never know... you can't say your life is going to depend on just one case," Ngcuka says.

The decision about whether to stay or not has clearly been a thorny one.

"You have to balance a lot of things - you have to look at the interests of society, you have to look at the interests of the organisation, the family. And I also have to take into account my own wishes, the things that I want, what I want to achieve, what I want to be. And then you have to find a balance."

Clearly it is the interests of Ngcuka's family, specifically his wife, Minerals and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, which weigh heavily on his mind.

"Take my wife, for example, she has always stood by me. I was in jail, she was there. I was banned, she was there. She made all those sacrifices.

"My mother, my brothers, and family, they would always be there, and even now they are very, very supportive.

"The question really that I ask myself is whether I should continue to expose them to this.".

Evidently the answer came, and it tipped the scales in favour of a new life.

Ngcuka's stint as the first head of the country's prosecuting authority has clearly been a cocktail of controversy, courage and, ultimately, conviction.

Filling that seat is an "acquired taste" - undeniably filled with occupational hazards, whoever the incumbent.

Structure - National Prosecuting Authority

Created by Section 179 of the Constitution (Act No 109 of 1996). Established on August 1, 1999, it is headed by Bulelani Ngcuka who has reporting to him the Director of Public Prosecutions, Investigating Directors and Special Directors.

Ngcuka has power to institute criminal proceedings on behalf of the state and to carry out any necessary functions incidental to instituting criminal proceedings.

National Prosecution Service Headed by Jan Henning Job: To co-ordinate and assist the traditional prosecuting structures, ie the offices of the directors of public prosecutions and lower court prosecutors.

It comprises two units:

One to develop policy and deal with representations made by the public or parties.

One to manage the performance of prosecutors.

Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions) Headed by Leonard McCarthy Job: To prioritise, investigate and prosecute particularly serious crime and that committed in an organised fashion.

It is a multidisciplinary agency that works often with the police.

Focus areas have included complex financial crime, syndicate-controlled crime, and high-level corruption in both the private and public sectors.

Asset Forfeiture Headed by Willie Hofmeyr Job: To seize assets of criminals to ensure they don't benefit from their ill-gotten gains or use these gains to commit crimes.

It is empowered to seize assets either (a) through civil action after conviction or (b) through civil action before conviction by proving - on a balance of probabilities - that the assets are tainted by crime.

Specialised Commercial Crime Unit Headed by Chris Jordaan Job: To investigate and prosecute commercial crime, taking on cases emanating from the commercial branches of the SA Police Service and acting on complaints from individuals, companies and state departments.

Established as a pilot project in Pretoria in 1999, it now has an office in Johannesburg and is being rolled out countrywide.

Auxiliary Services Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit Headed by Thoko Majokweni Job: To deal with cases which involve the victimisation of women and children.

Witness Protection Unit Headed by Dawood Adams. Job: To protect vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, having taken over this task from the department of justice.

How he built the NPA from scratch Deception is an art, one which Bulelani Ngcuka appears, prima facie, to have perfected.

On the face of it, the oft-repeated aside that Ngcuka and the National Prosecuting Authority have been pampered by the government while the SA Police Service has come second in the race for resources is true.

The NPA's headquarters stands in stark contrast to the bleak surrounds of Silverton, on the eastern edge of the city of Tshwane (Pretoria) - it is a contemporary building, the interior decorations leaving little to be desired.

But, as with most beginnings, Ngcuka's outfit started off more humbly.

Having just been appointed to the country's top law-enforcement job, Ngcuka went to see his new offices in Pretoria with Sipho Ngwema and Hermien Cronjé, then two of his top aides in parliament.

He was sent to see Gawie Jordaan, a department of justice official, who took Ngcuka, Ngwema and Cronjé to the Sinodale Centre in Visagie Street.

"He opened the door and gave me the key. He said 'Sir, there's your office'. Of course, there was nothing inside - no chair, nothing," Ngcuka recalls.

Sitting in his generously appointed office almost seven years to the day, Ngcuka remembers how he walked up to the seventh floor to introduce himself to one of his new subordinates, Jan Swanepoel, then head of the Office for Serious Economic Offences.

"When he greeted me, he handed me the resignation of one of his deputies - that was his 'hello' to me. I realised then that I was in trouble."

Swanepoel complained about the many vacancies in his department - "that he just had no staff and that he himself was not prepared to stay on any longer".

It dawned on Ngcuka that "perhaps the first thing I needed to do was to fill the vacancies".

And so Ngcuka went to the Treasury, where he got a meagre R4-million budget, "which obviously was just enough to pay staff salaries".

"That helped me because I learned the art of scrounging," Ngcuka recalls with a grin on his face.

Next came the hunt for furniture. Former police commissioner George Fivaz; an old schoolmate at the Reserve Bank, wealthy businessman Patrice Motsepe; the department of justice; and the National Intelligence Agency all pitched in to help furnish Ngcuka's offices.

"That's how I started - I had no money, I had to go and beg."

Then Ngcuka experienced one of those nightmares ordinary South Africans have on a daily basis.

"Telkom said, 'Ooh, you'll probably get these phones in three months' time - you've got to go on the waiting list'," Ngcuka laughs heartily.

He called another friend who arranged for Telkom staff to install the lines at night.

"During the day they would go on with their programme, and then in the evenings they would come and install phones in our offices.

"So by the end of the week I had phones, I had furniture.

"Then I started, and I never looked back."

With acknowledgements to Jeremy Michaels and The Star.