Publication: City Press Issued: Date: 2004-07-31 Reporter: Jimmy Seepe

I Have Only One Regret, says Defiant Ngcuka



City Press

Date 2004-07-31


Jimmy Seepe

Web Link


On the Scorpions

'If the Scorpions were to improve from their 92 percent conviction rate, it will be by another percentage or so. I would not want to sit here and create just a one percent improvement. The Scorpions need fresh ideas.' Ngcuka is seen here admiring the Scorpions' cars with his former and also out-of-office boss, ex-justice minister Penuell Maduna

On Lawrence Mushwana

'The report was flawed from start to finish and I will die believing that.'

On Deputy President Jacob Zuma

'I leave with my integrity intact and my conscience is clear about this. The statement I made (that there was a prima facie case against Zuma) is an objective one and based on fact. The fact that the deputy president does not like it is unfortunate but that is the reality.'

Bulelani Ngcuka has only one regret - he lost his cool.

The head of the National Prosecuting Authority said he did not regret anything that he had done during his tenure, apart from losing his temper when responding to a report by Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana.

By losing his temper, according to Ngcuka, he gave the Mushwana report the attention it did not deserve.

"The report was flawed from start to finish and I will die believing that," he said.

While Ngcuka has been showered with praise for being independent from the government, he cautioned that whoever succeeds him will need to enjoy the confidence and support of the government.

He described as nonsense the comment that whoever succeeds him must be independent, saying "you cannot put someone (in that position) who is opposed to government. That is nonsense. Anybody who says that, does not understand the responsibility of government."

This week he addressed his staff at the Scorpions headquarters in Silverton, outside Pretoria, about his plans. Ngcuka granted City Press an interview which many in his office said would be his last as the national director of public prosecutions.

In the interview, Ngcuka defended the correctness of fighting crime even when this involved his comrades in the ANC. He defended his pursuit of prominent ANC leaders such as former ANC Women's League president Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni and former anti-apartheid cleric and Western Cape ANC leader Allan Boesak.

He also maintained his position that he acted correctly regarding his statements that there was prima facie case against Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

His brave move to take on the ANC big guns, considered to be untouchables in some circles, earned him respect among the general public.

At one stage, Ngcuka found his office being defended by the opposition parties rather than the organisation that put him in his position.

As he prepared to leave the post, Ngcuka was unfazed by comments made by parliamentarians who wanted him to apologise to Zuma and the Office of the Public Protector for what many thought were unsavoury statements.

In the interview, Ngcuka said he was happy to be leaving after achieving the mandate that had been given to him.

"I have achieved what I set out to do and feel it is now time for me to move on. We have accomplished our mandate. I was mandated to set up the National Prosecuting Authority and I have done that. I have set up the Scorpions, the asset forfeiture unit, specialised commercial crime courts and the sexual offences and community affairs unit, and they are effective.

"Since we set up the new witnesses protection unit, no witnesses have died while under our control. It will be remembered that before we set up the new witness protection programme, two witnesses were killed. No witness has escaped," he added.

The specialised commercial crime unit, Scorpions and asset forfeiture unit achieved a conviction rate of 93 percent .

He defended his decision to resign before serving out his contract, saying the next four years would not be as challenging as the past six years.

"If the Scorpions were to improve from their 92 percent conviction rate, it will be by another percentage or so. I would not want to sit here and create just a one percent improvement. The Scorpions need fresh ideas."

During his term of office, the Scorpions developed a strained relationship with the police following accusations that the specialised unit was stealing high-profile cases from the police service . However Ngcuka said the tensions were to be expected.

He rejected suggestions that the Scorpions were stealing high-profile cases from the police.

"There is no such thing. Police and Scorpions were doing their work separately. Theft is an offence and we would have charged anyone stealing dockets. There are indeed jealousies about turfs, and those things are confined to the footsoldiers out there. The success of the police is my success.

"Take the Boeremag trial here. That case was investigated from scratch by the police, but it has to be prosecuted by the national directorate of public prosecutions. We had to make sure that the investigation was done properly in order for it to lead to conviction. "

He said he did not know where the suggestions that the Scorpions had to be located under the police came from.

"You cannot bring the Scorpions under the police because they would lose being the Scorpions. People need to understand that the Scorpions are a different breed and it is a different animal from the police and they must operate differently."

There is growing concern that Ngcuka might have left early as a result of the pressure he has received since he decided to prosecute Durban-based businessman Schabir Shaik, one-time financial adviser to Jacob Zuma.

Asked whether he was running away from the case, he said: "I'm not prosecuting the trial myself. I have appointed very prominent and competent advocates who are senior counsel. I have no role in that trial and would have sat here and done nothing regarding that trial. The Schabir Schaik case is one among millions of cases that are sitting in the whole country. It is a minor case compared with the scale of things we deal with in this office. It is just another case which has gained prominence because of some of the people mentioned in it.

"To then say that I must stay to finalise that case would suggest that I must stay here indefinitely. This would mean I cannot leave the prosecuting authority to do something else."

On Political Pressure

He once again denied that there was political pressure to force him out of office.

"I know there is a perception I'm bowing to political pressure. I need to correct that. The president (Thabo Mbeki) and my minister (Brigitte Mabandla) do not want me to leave. The minister told the staff this when she addressed us, but I told them that it was time for me to move on. There was therefore no pressure put on me to go.

"Secondly, I wanted to leave last year after five years in office. I had pointed out it was not when I would leave, but how I leave. This is a hot seat and the pressure is too high. To sustain this pressure for a period of 10 years is too much for an individual. I don't believe anyone should sit here for more than five years, otherwise you'll get into a rut."

On Jacob Zuma

Since the beginning of the year, Ngcuka has faced growing pressure from certain sections of the ruling party, including the deputy president himself, to correct a media statement that there was a prima facie case against him. This led Zuma to approach the Office of the Public Protector to protest against the statement because he believed it convicted him in the eyes of public .

Ngcuka was unwilling to retract the statement, saying he acted correctly under the circumstances. He said he believed that the statement was fitting because it described the volume of information which was before him.

"I believe I acted correctly. Can you imagine if you read the indictment and it tells you that the deputy president was involved? That is what the charge sheet tells you. We are required by law to serve the indictment on Schabir Shaik and are required to specify what the allegations are that we're making, which we have to prove. If anyone reads that indictment, he or she would come to that conclusion.

"Although the charge sheet said something about the deputy president, it was clear that we cannot prove a case against him. At face value, there is a case against the deputy president, but if you dig deeper there is no case against him.

"I leave with my integrity intact and my conscience is clear about this. The statement I made is an objective one and based on fact. The fact that the deputy president does not like it is unfortunate but that is the reality. The team that investigated the deputy president recommended that I should charge him but I said no."

He denied targeting only ANC officials, saying there were many cases that involved other prominent people from other political parties and business leaders.

"We have dealt with many cases which involved prominent people. There was a case involving the website spoofing of the South African Reserve Bank. The guy tried to create a website of the Reserve Bank and to get money into it. The guy was outside the country and we brought him inside and prosecuted him. We took the boss of the Regal Bank and the managers of LeisureNet.

"Those cases did not make news like politicians (do). You cannot count more than five ANC people who have been prosecuted. We have prosecuted politicians across the political spectrum from the IFP, NNP and DA. We have had a number of cases across the board. Those cases did not get prominence because they did not come from the ruling party."

On Relations with Government

He said during his stay at the prosecution office, he had good relations with the president and his political principals and ministers (the late Dullah Omar, Penuell Maduna and Brigitte Mabandla).

"I have had good relations with my ministers and kept them informed and fairly involved in everything that I do. I did not hide anything from them and there was no need for them to interfere.

"The government has supported the work that I do and it has committed itself to eradicating corruption in the country. They appreciate the work of this institution and that is why they committed resources for us to do our work. They have given us the space for us to do that.

"The government supported us all the way and I leave with the support I enjoyed from the government. I believe in this government and believe in what this government is doing and will continue supporting government outside of this office. You don't have to be in the civil service to support this government."

Regarding the type of individual who needs to succeed him, Ngcuka said: "Such a person needs to enjoy the confidence and support of government.

"This is not a judicial position but a quasi-judicial position. Of course you need someone who is independent, objective and who can do things without fear, favour or prejudice.

"This position requires somebody who has the confidence of government because at the end of the day you need to carry out government policy. It is the responsibility of the government to fight crime.

"When all else fails it is the government that is held accountable. You cannot therefore put someone who is opposed to government.

"That is nonsense.

"This was the advantage I had because I could go back to government to request the amendment of certain legislation. We had to go to government after establishing the asset forfeiture unit because we were losing cases. We lost three cases and had to return goods that were seized.

"There was a loophole in the law that criminals were exploiting. That amendment which was done took less than a month to do. I believe that achieved a record in passing legislation after less than a month."

On Prosecuting and Comrades

Asked if he would live to regret prosecuting his former comrades such as Boesak, Yengeni and Madikizela-Mandela, Ngcuka said: "I won't. How can I regret it when those people were found guilty by the courts of law which vindicated the decision we took that we had to prosecute them?

"The question is not of regret but whether I liked that. Of course I did not like that. I did not like the fact that we had to prosecute Tony, Allan and Winnie. Besides having been my comrades, they were my friends. I worked with them.

"It was painful to make the decision to prosecute them. I did not enjoy prosecuting people like them, especially when there was no victim. Victimless cases are difficult. I did not have difficulty in prosecuting cases that had victims such as murder and rape."

During his tenure, Ngcuka was seen as the darling of the opposition , which would go to Parliament to fight on his behalf, but he said the opposition was playing a political game by trying to take situations and use them for their own advantage.

On Whether He Would Apologise to Mushwana

He was adamant that the Mushwana investigation did not achieve anything.

"I continue to disagree with him. His report has many shortcomings and is unacceptable. I made a public statement that I was going to smash that report but was not given an opportunity by Parliament. Parliamentarians themselves know that they did something wrong (by not affording Ngcuka the opportunity to address them).

" The Mushwana report was a minor irritant. The only part I regret is that I lost my cool and gave it the unnecessary attention which it did not deserve. I lost my focus.

"I don't have anything against the person but there's nothing I can do now."

With acknowledgements to Jimmy Seepe and the City Press.