The pow­er­ful can defy jus­tice

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - DOU­GLAS GIBSON

SOUTH Africa does not have equal jus­tice for rich and poor. A year ago, the to­tal prison pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing pre-trial and re­mand pris­on­ers, was 161 984. It seems odd, there­fore, to ques­tion the op­er­a­tion of jus­tice and the rule of law. All these pris­on­ers were ar­rested and brought be­fore the courts by the South African Po­lice Ser­vice (SAPS) and the pros­e­cut­ing author­ity.

Is our sys­tem of jus­tice work­ing sat­is­fac­to­rily? The answer, when one looks closely at the sit­u­a­tion is, “No, it is not”.

At the level of the poor, the de­prived, the un- or un­der-ed­u­cated, which de­scribes most of those in­volved in crime, the sys­tem op­er­ates more or less prop­erly.

Thou­sands of crim­i­nals are never caught and pun­ished be­cause of in­ad­e­qua­cies in crime de­tec­tion and pros­e­cu­tion. The crime rate is es­ca­lat­ing and pa­thetic lead­er­ship at na­tional level is partly to blame.

But there is an im­por­tant class of crim­i­nal that does not fear be­ing held to ac­count, de­tected, tried and if found guilty, pun­ished. These peo­ple are the po­lit­i­cally con­nected, the ed­u­cated, and the friends of those in power.

Per­haps this has al­ways been the case, but the Trav­el­gate rev­e­la­tions first sig­nalled the post-1994 rot. Crooks es­caped real pun­ish­ment be­cause they were po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful.

Eighty MPs, not all from the ANC, but by far the ma­jor­ity from that party, were im­pli­cated in de­fraud­ing the pub­lic by abus­ing travel vouch­ers and claims for travel. Many of them were asked to re­pay monies deemed to have been mis­used. Thirty were charged crim­i­nally and many agreed to a plea bar­gain with the State, signed ad­mis­sions of guilt and were fined.

The saga went on for four years un­til the last ANC MP pleaded guilty. Writer Gareth van Onselen wrote that Trav­el­gate was a huge scan­dal that would be­come de­fined by cover-ups, po­lit­i­cal pro­tec­tion and ul­ti­mately, re­ward for those found guilty.

Trav­el­gate crooks be­came min­is­ters, deputy min­is­ters, may­ors and chair­per­sons of par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tees at in­flated salaries.

In the ANC the old say­ing, “Who says crime doesn’t pay?” be­came the sig­nal to many oth­ers, with Trav­el­gate set­ting the scene for cor­rup­tion in pub­lic life. It stretched the en­ve­lope so that it soon ex­tended to the pub­lic ser­vice, to state en­ti­ties and right into the cabi­net.

The ANC, com­mit­ted to act­ing against cor­rup­tion, failed to take any ac­tion. The only fear of mis­cre­ants was that the me­dia or the op­po­si­tion would dis­cover the facts, re­sult­ing in pub­lic em­bar­rass­ment.

Few had any fear that they would be jailed or pun­ished, or fired, if caught. They could of­ten ex­pect the pro­tec­tion of the Pres­i­dency and pro­mo­tion to higher of­fice.

While South Africans sus­pected the rot, it was only with the pub­li­ca­tion of the pub­lic pro­tec­tor’s re­port on state cap­ture that the ex­tent of the law­less­ness, the greed and the ex­ploita­tion of pub­lic of­fice for per­sonal gain started to glim­mer through.

This has now been ex­panded by the rev­e­la­tion two or three weeks ago, of the ex­is­tence of more than 100 000 e-mails im­pli­cat­ing the Gupta fam­ily in­ter­ests and their ben­e­fi­cia­ries in the Pres­i­dency, the cabi­net, in Par­lia­ment, in state owned en­ter­prises and in pub­lic life gen­er­ally.

The head of the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity, who was so vol­u­ble and anx­ious to in­sti­tute a cooked-up pros­e­cu­tion against the for­mer min­is­ter of fi­nance, has been silent about the Gupta e-mails.The min­is­ter of jus­tice has not con­cerned him­self about the mat­ter. The Hawks seem not to be do­ing much. The SAPS has done noth­ing. The min­is­ter of fi­nance has queried how the e-mails were ob­tained and de­nied any wrong­do­ing. This de­spite com­pelling ev­i­dence that he ap­pointed to the boards of state owned en­ter­prises many nom­i­nees of the Gupta fam­ily, en­abling them to cap­ture these en­ti­ties thereby gain­ing enor­mous fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage at the ex­pense of the peo­ple.

Sev­eral mem­bers of the cabi­net were in the pay of the Gup­tas or in­debted to them. None of them is sus­pended or fired or charged with of­fences.Noth­ing will hap­pen be­cause the pres­i­dent and some of his fam­ily have been cap­tured too.

It is left to the DA and the EFF to take ac­tion against the ac­cused. Per­haps Ger­rie Nel and Afrifo­rum will help.

If jus­tice pro­vides a deal for the po­lit­i­cally con­nected, the jus­tice sys­tem and the rule of law will be com­pro­mised.

Project 2019 is the com­bined ef­fort by op­po­si­tion par­ties to rid South Africa of the ANC gov­ern­ment. I want each of the op­po­si­tion par­ties to make a pledge to re­store and strengthen the rule of law un­der the coali­tion gov­ern­ment that will suc­ceed the ANC. This should be one of the main pol­icy is­sues of Project 2019.

It should pledge equal jus­tice for all. It should prom­ise to en­sure the jus­tice sys­tem will in­ves­ti­gate crim­i­nal con­duct by all politi­cians and civil ser­vants, ANC and oth­ers, as well as by di­rec­tors of state owned en­ter­prises.

If there is a case, pros­e­cu­tion must fol­low so that the guilty are held ac­count­able and pun­ished for the mil­lions, or bil­lions, they have stolen from the peo­ple.

TRAV­EL­GATE SAGA: ANC MPs El­iz­a­beth Ngaleka and Randy Pi­eterse leave the Cape Town court with an uniden­ti­fied woman hid­ing be­hind a blan­ket.

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