August 15, 2008

The South African Update

Filed under: Mwalimu (Vol 1.2. - Second Quarter 2008),opinion article — newritings @ 5:00 pm

The media has been doing a great job covering the trial and tribulations of this teenage nation. The cases we followed in the last edition continued to be covered widely in South African Media. The case of Vusi Pikoli is key for our democracy and like a soap opera its hearing covers most of the other cases (Zuma, Scorpions, etc.) currently on circuit.

At the closure of the trial, Vusi Pikoli’s lawyer Wim Trengrove argued for the lifting of the suspension of his client, the head of public prosecutions. In the state’s closing argument, it was reiterated that Pikoli had “failed” in his position as head of the prosecuting authority and must be axed. Trengove argued that the state, saying it had simply “scraped together a hodgepodge of complaints” aimed at removing him from his post. To dismiss Pikoli, he argued, would do “unforgivable injustice to a good man”. To dismiss him, will give credence to the belief that Pikoli has been fired for ignoring an executive order not to prosecute a political friend – national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi -, who is facing several charges.

For non South African readers looking for a snap shot, I recommend a fascinating piece: “The curious case of Mr Pikoli”, which is a must read by Jeremy Gordin, IOL, July 13.

In his resume, he describes the key actors and the background and current drama as it unfolds. Gordin concludes that there are implications for future generations… Take some of these snippets:

The Ginwala inquiry into whether Vusi Pikoli is fit to be the country’s national director of public prosecutions has mostly been a grave and formal affair…

Pikoli has also been clear and adamant that Mabandla was told that a warrant was going to be issued against Selebi and he has been unequivocally backed up by Nel and others.

And there has been no evidence to the contrary, because Mabandla did not give evidence.

Nel has also clearly argued that, without certain plea bargains, notably with Clinton Nassif, a drug dealer implicated in the murder of mining boss Brett Kebble, and also in a drug syndicate, the NPA would have been unable to formulate successfully a number of charges, including those against Glenn Agliotti, charged with the murder of Kebble, and Selebi.

In short, on the face of it, it looks difficult for the Ginwala inquiry to find Pikoli unfit to hold office. The only real plea bargain of relevance to his inquiry – the others took place before Pikoli’s time – is the Nassif one. And was the decision to unravel the Kebble and Selebi matters via a plea bargain – whatever one may think of its morality – sufficient cause to declare the NDPP unfit to hold his post?

Still, as fair and just as Ginwala might be, or want to be, the dice are loaded against Pikoli for the simple reason that the fact that the head of state suspended him and appointed an inquiry suggests that he did something wrong.

It also worrying that Ginwala has seemed to suggest, in her responses to the media, that the normal rules of evidence – in terms of which Pikoli’s version would stand because not challenged by other, direct testimony – might not apply.

But the Ginwala inquiry has not only been strange, it has also been fascinating because it has been the nexus of almost all the major court cases, legal matters and investigations that have gripped the country’s imagination. The matter of the mercenaries who tried to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea has come up because there was a plea bargain made between the NPA and Mark Thatcher.

The Zuma matter – in which Zuma was let off the hook by Bulelani Ngcuka, the former national director of public prosecutions, then charged in 2005 after Schabir Shaik was found guilty, then had his case thrown out in 2006, then was recharged immediately after his Polokwane victory, in December – has played a major role in the proceedings because of the search and seizure raids that the NPA carried out.

These raids are in turn the subject of the pending judgments in the constitutional court and therefore at the nub of the battle between the judges of that court and Hlophe: the judges have said Hlophe tried to influence two of their number into making a Zuma-friendly judgment.

And there is the whole sorry saga of Kebble and his alleged connections with Agliotti, Nassif and Selebi, and all the messy shenanigans that have emerged from the Scorpions’ investigations into the mining magnate’s murder.

Finally, besides the strangeness and fascination of the inquiry into Pikoli, there is at its heart a mystery to which we might one day have the answer, but probably not in the near future.

Why did Mbeki go so far to protect Selebi? Was it simply loyalty to an old comrade that caused the president to suspend Pikoli? Was it the proximity in time to the Polokwane conference at which Mbeki wanted to be returned to the ANC presidency?

Or was there something else that made the president want to avoid at all costs having Selebi in court?

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