Publication: Mail and Guardian
Reporter: Adriaan Basson
Mail and Guardian
When the Scorpions were up for grabs at Judge Sisi Khampepe’s commission in
October 2005, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Vusi Pikoli said “I do”
-- and Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla retorted “I don’t”.
This week’s formal divorce of the two was long in the making.
It was during the hearings of the Khampepe Commission to determine the future of
the Scorpions -- formally known as the Directorate of Special Operations -- that
the strain between South Africa’s law enforcement agencies and their political
bosses was exposed for all to see.
On October 6 2005, Mabandla, through senior counsel Dabi Khumalo, told the
commission the elite unit had lost its relevance, that the relationship between
it and the South African Police Service had “irretrievably broken down”, and
that she would be to happy to see the unit moved from the NPA to the police.
Her submission clearly jolted Pikoli and other NPA officials in attendance. The
metaphor of a mother abandoning her star child did the rounds.
Eight months later, on June 29 last year, the Director General in the
Presidency, Frank Chikane, publicised Khampepe’s report in a three-page summary.
It dismissed all Mabandla’s arguments and argued for the preservation of the
Scorpions in its current form -- except its law enforcement abilities, which
would now be subject to the safety and security minister’s political oversight.
It even recommended that the capacity of police units should be enhanced by
“investing them with the same legal powers of the DSO and co-locating
prosecutors with its investigators and analysts”.
President Thabo Mbeki accepted the recommendations, and amendments to the NPA
Act are currently being drafted.
Khampepe reprimanded Pikoli, SAPS Commissioner Jackie Selebi and the axed
director general of the National Intelligence Agency, Billy Masetlha, for their
infighting, and Mabandla ordered them to meet within three weeks and devise a
system for improved cooperation. Whether this happened is unknown.
Mbeki has since fired Masetlha; Selebi is deeply implicated in the Scorpions’
investigation of slain mining magnet Brett Kebble and Kebble’s business
partners; and Pikoli has been suspended.
It is clear that the “working relationship” between Pikoli and Mabandla was
never repaired -- that, according to Mbeki, was why Pikoli was suspended.
“The president considers the relationship between the minister and the NDPP
[National Directorate of Public Prosecutions] central to the effective
administration of justice and the smooth functioning of the [NPA],” the
government explained. “The relationship breakdown had adverse implications for
the NPA and the functioning of the criminal justice system.”
It did not elaborate on the “adverse implications” and NPA insiders are adamant
that there are none. They argue that the NPA, and specifically the Scorpions,
has produced results, with 85% of cases leading to convictions, and that it has
been one of the few shining lights in Mabandla’s justice portfolio.
Mabandla could no longer work with a colleague who only communicated with her
“after the fact”, a justice department source told the Mail & Guardian. “Pikoli
never felt that he was required to report to her. He saw it as a courtesy
This was in contrast to the relationship between former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka
and Mabandla’s predecessor, Penuell Maduna. “She [Mabandla] was treated [by
Pikoli] like a rubber-stamp. Why should she have protected the Scorpions if they
didn’t report to her? You can’t blame her for not feeling the need to protect
them,” the source said.
A former senior NPA employee countered by saying Mabandla
could not be trusted with operational secrets.
With acknowledgements to
Adriaan Basson and Mail and Guardian.