What a lot of bull, Bulelani
Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I read such a piece of bombastic bull. Written in the highfalutin jargon of a legal memorandum, it failed miserably. This is the letter by former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka, written last week after the release of the transcripts of taped intelligence conversations that got President Jacob Zuma off the corruption hook. They are called the “spy tapes” and Ngcuka is a key character in the script.
He responded last week in a three-page, 16-point letter criticising his successor, Mokotedi Mpshe, for dropping the charges.
Mpshe was either lily-livered or ambitious (he has subsequently been gifted with an acting position on the Bench) and our president should have faced the charges, but Ngcuka’s behaviour was atrocious.
Already out of state service, he parlayed his political influence with the elite of the day to attempt to corrupt the investigative and prosecutorial service of the institution he had been privileged to previously lead. He did so by attempting to rule from the grave and direct the course of the corruption case.
By the time the tapes were recorded, he was three years out of service and was part of a political corps assembled to keep then president Thabo Mbeki in political power. ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma was fighting a winning battle and towards the end of 2007, when the tapes were recorded, the fat lady was singing Umshini wami.
Ngcuka was thus engaged in a corrupting exercise by attempting to sway the direction and timing of a prosecution that was really none of his business.
The transcripts put him left and centre in the deliberations of former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy who had to make the case.
Now Ngcuka comes snorting in like a big bull to lambast the hapless Mpshe in a hubristic goring.
As far as I can see, his defence is a highly technical one. Ngcuka says he and McCarthy’s partisan discussions to protect Mbeki were recorded after the decision to prosecute had been made and therefore did not matter.
His second point is that nothing has happened to intelligence agent Arthur Fraser, who handed the state intercepts to President Zuma’s lawyer, Michael Hulley.
It all happened so long ago and so much water has flowed under the bridge that the corruption at the heart of the tapes – a bribe offer and alleged receipt of R500 000 a year – is small by our current gigantism. (For example, this week I found myself debating with a colleague whether a loss of R1 billion in another instance of looting was “that” big.)
But that moment is important because we track it as the time of the loss of our innocence.
The review of the dropping of the corruption charges must go ahead if we are to find our path to a common good again.
But Ngcuka should not kid himself and believe his slate is clean – his legacy as anti-corruption slayer is not intact. He and McCarthy hold a great responsibility for the tainting of public institutions, notably the prosecuting service.
By failing to build a nonpartisan and independent institution as the inaugural democratic cadreship, we now suffer.
The National Prosecuting Authority has never recovered and the Scorpions are dead.
For Ngcuka to fail to see his role in this is a great abrogation of leadership.
To understand how a deployed cadre can do the true work of democracy without fear, favour or prejudice, look at Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Of ANC stock, she provides the template of how to serve a single master – our Constitution. Ngcuka may try to insinuate himself into this company, but he cannot.
McCarthy appears to have gone to ground. The vice-president for integrity at the World Bank has not responded to several requests for interviews. He was taped talking about City Press and about my time as editor of the Mail & Guardian. I would really like to talk to him, but integrity is a commodity in short supply, so perhaps he is busy.
In the period just before the intercepts, talented Mail & Guardian writer Vicki Robinson called the victory of then ANC deputy president Zuma over then president Mbeki six months before it happened in Polokwane.
She was able to do so because a key labour law amendment sponsored by Mbeki failed at numerous provincial congresses.
We read the writing on the wall by watching for the small losses that indicated a big loss.
I’m wondering what the writing on the wall will be this time round. Will it be Nkandla? The governing ANC is unable to put a cork in the scandal despite its best efforts. Or will it be e-tolls? The biggest party bosses and the most persuasive arguments are unable to stem the internal ANC opposition to them.
Watch the writing – it will be clarifying.