Shamila Batohi lifts lid on rot in the NPA
Director taken aback at the extent of decay
The national director of public prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi, has lifted the lid on the mess she inherited at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), revealing that she even struggled to find colleagues she could trust.
In an interview on Friday, an impassioned Batohi said she had underestimated the extent of decay at the prosecuting authority.
Batohi, who was hired by President Cyril Ramaphosa from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, in December last year, said she was left stunned by some of the decisions taken by her predecessors.
"I found an NPA where the leadership failed the NPA and the people of SA," she said.
The NPA has had seven national directors in the past decade alone. The leadership instability weakened the organisation as state capture ravaged the criminal justice system.
Batohi said the situation at the NPA made it difficult to identify reliable people she could appoint to key senior positions to help rehabilitate the institution.
"That's the thing, who do I trust? Even in the NPA it's difficult," said Batohi, who previously served as provincial NPA head in KwaZulu-Natal. She said she was left with no choice but to overturn questionable decisions related to certain high-profile cases of corruption.
Batohi cited the Bosasa case, saying it revealed "trends" in NPA decisions not to pursue certain matters.
"Things people were doing … how do I put it? It was just … it left some questions," she said.
Batohi, who said "corruption has reached endemic levels", said she would be lobbying the incoming justice minister to allocate more financial and other resources to the NPA.
"If the NPA doesn't receive the resources needed, [it will be] failing our country," she said.
Batohi this week introduced one of her most important appointments yet, tasking advocate Hermione Cronje with heading the NPA's "Scorpions-like" investigative directorate. Cronje and Batohi worked together at the NPA in the early 2000s.
Cronje's directorate will focus on corruption matters emanating from the state capture commission and similar bodies.
Cronje said the NPA was ineffective because of "obstructions within the system".
She would be clamping down on the "kingpins" of state capture and corruption. "We want to get to the people who were orchestrating, and not just the people who are implementing," she said.
Batohi and Cronje believe "hitting on the top" is the only way of sending the message that corruption is unacceptable.
"We want to make sure the convictions we get actually make a difference," Cronje said. "We have a serious problem of corruption and we have people who mastered the art of looting and have applied that skill in a number of areas. It's those people we want to be targeting."
Cronje said her unit would be extremely selective on which matters to pursue. It is already looking at cases that can secure big convictions, like the Estina dairy farm case, where more than R100m meant to empower the community of Vrede in the Free State was looted, allegedly by the Guptas, with the aid of government officials.
For that to happen, Cronje's directorate needs to develop a proper legal strategy. For this, it has brought in advocate Geoff Budlender SC to "work in the background" on how to pursue state capture masterminds.
Cronje said they want to have a complete picture of how people involved in state capture were able to penetrate one institution after another.
Her unit is in the process of identifying people who will lead the prosecutions of these big cases, but she said she is aware that those implicated would fight back on everything.
"We have to be extra careful because they may not fight the evidence but the process and the people," she said.