Nene’s dis­clo­sures to the Zondo com­mis­sion were un­set­tling. But our re­ac­tion should be in­formed by our need for jus­tice, not ret­ri­bu­tion

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Et tu, Brute?” — mean­ing “Even you, Bru­tus?” or “You too, Bru­tus?” — has come to be as­so­ci­ated with be­trayal by those we trusted most. Wil­liam Shake­speare presents these as the last words of Ro­man em­peror Julius Cae­sar, spo­ken upon notic­ing that his friend and pro­tégé Bru­tus is among those who have fa­tally stabbed him.

It is an ex­pres­sion of the pain and shock we feel on real­is­ing that those we trusted with our lives, or with some­thing pre­cious, have gone be­hind our backs to be­tray us.

I got a sense of this sen­ti­ment in the re­ac­tion to for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene’s dis­clo­sure to the Zondo com­mis­sion about meet­ing the Gup­tas at their Sax­on­world home sev­eral times prior to his re­moval from of­fice in De­cem­ber 2015 — and his apol­ogy for pre­vi­ously ly­ing about his as­so­ci­a­tion with the fam­ily.

I be­lieve talk-show host JJ Ta­bane’s dis­clo­sure that he worked with erst­while com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Faith Muthambi in­voked the same feel­ing of be­trayal.

Legally and morally we are en­ti­tled to re­act as we did. Sec­tion 195 of the con­sti­tu­tion re­quires em­ploy­ees of the state to op­er­ate with the high­est level of pro­fes­sional ethics. Ly­ing cer­tainly doesn’t meet that bur­den.

For the pub­lic, the in­quiry will re­main in­com­plete un­til we know the rea­sons for Nene’s be­trayal. Was he con­fronted with an eth­i­cal dilemma?

If so, what was it and was his choice made in the in­ter­est of him­self or the pub­lic?

A mo­ment for re­flec­tion

We also need to ex­am­ine our re­ac­tion: is our wounded re­sponse strate­gic or parochial?

That these in­di­vid­u­als be­trayed our trust dur­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble time of our na­tion since the strug­gle days seems un­ques­tion­able. But is a puni­tive re­ac­tion res­o­nant with our de­sire to get to the truth about state cap­ture?

I’m not con­vinced; I’m con­cerned that such a re­ac­tion will dis­cour­age fu­ture self-dis­clo­sure.

My years of train­ing and work as an in­ves­ti­ga­tor taught me that leads are the key to suc­cess­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and whistle­blow­ers are a source of such leads. In­deed, most of our in­ves­ti­ga­tions into im­proper or crim­i­nal con­duct in state af­fairs, such as cor­rup­tion and fraud, com­menced be­cause of whis­tle-blow­ing to the me­dia, po­lit­i­cal par­ties or the pub­lic pro­tec­tor.

An­other key source of in­for­ma­tion is self-dis­clo­sure. Usu­ally this oc­curs once the per­son con­cerned has been im­pli­cated in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion — al­beit of­ten as an ac­ces­sory rather than a key per­pe­tra­tor.

Pros­e­cu­to­rial au­thor­i­ties glob­ally use self-dis­clo­sure to probe crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity and, in par­tic­u­lar, to net the big fish. The only case I know of in which the big fish was al­lowed to go free in ex­change for dis­clo­sure im­pli­cat­ing the small fish was that of for­mer po­lice com­mis­sioner Jackie Selebi. Drug lord Glenn Agliotti was traded for Selebi, who though su­pe­rior in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem was a small fish in the value chain of the Agliotti “mafia”.

But back to Nene. I won­der if one of the rea­sons peo­ple want him — and those, like him, who be­trayed their trust — to “burn at the stake” is ret­ri­bu­tion. They would like these in­di­vid­u­als to ex­pe­ri­ence the hurt they caused through aid­ing and abet­ting wrong­do­ing, wit­tingly or not.

I was hounded as a re­sult of the state cap­ture project. In fact, the mighty thrust of Bri­tish PR firm Bell Pot­tinger’s “white mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal” dead cat fo­cused on me, per­son­ally, and my of­fice. I was at­tacked through a per­sis­tent me­dia cam­paign, in­clud­ing by so­cial me­dia bots; lies were man­u­fac­tured; pseu­dopo­lit­i­cal party Black First Land First camped at the of­fices of the pub­lic pro­tec­tor for vir­tu­ally the en­tire state cap­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tion; and my staff were ha­rassed.

But I have tried not to re­act to the ap­par­ent be­trayal. What is im­por­tant, I be­lieve, is a re­sponse that fos­ters truth, jus­tice and the pub­lic in­ter­est. I hon­estly be­lieve the “Et tu, Brute?” re­sponse may sat­isfy our parochial need for ret­ri­bu­tion at the ex­pense of our strate­gic need for truth and jus­tice.

Is a puni­tive re­ac­tion to be­trayal res­o­nant with our de­sire to get to the truth about state cap­ture?


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