Lady Justice unleashed, armed and dangerous
I thought President Cyril Ramaphosa had a pretty good state of the nation speech on Thursday. One measure of its political impact was the foul temper in which the EFF left parliament afterwards. One of its MPs hit a policeman.
Another would be to think for a moment about the enormity of the proclamation Ramaphosa said he would sign to give the national director of public prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, authority to establish in her office an investigating director. In many ways, and I'm sure Ramaphosa appreciates it, he will be creating a new level of the state. Under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act, an investigating director is hugely powerful and, apart from reporting to Batohi, has almost no constraint.
In the US they call these people special counsel. Robert Mueller, the guy investigating Donald Trump's Russian ties, is one. Once these people get going as both police and prosecutor, they are hard to stop. And Ramaphosa has vowed not to interfere. Not ever.
There are only two obvious candidates for this job. One is Glynnis Breytenbach, now a DA MP but once one of the NPA's best prosecutors, before being forced out by Jacob Zuma's proxies. The other is Andrea Johnson, also a tough and experienced prosecutor and the person Batohi beat to the job.
My guess is the job will go to Johnson. Breytenbach's short career in opposition politics is difficult. But, I suspect, both Batohi and Johnson would want her in the investigative directorate. And she would want in herself. And if the police minister really is going to fire Robert McBride, the latter could find himself inside the directorate as well.
The directorate can investigate literally anything it likes. Ramaphosa's only control will be to write a circumscribed mandate, but that will quickly unravel. To clean our country of corruption, the directorate will have to be able to go everywhere. It will be Ramaphosa's lasting legacy.
Try these few lines from the act to get a sense of what Ramaphosa is about to unleash:
"The Investigating Director may, if he or she decides to conduct an investigation, at any time prior to or during the conducting of the investigation, designate any person . or, in the case of an investigation requested by the Head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation [the Hawks] . any member of the prosecuting authority or a member of that Directorate, to conduct the investigation, or any part thereof, on his or her behalf and to report to him or her. A person so designated shall for the purpose of the investigation concerned have the same powers as those which the Investigating Director has ."
And there's the nightmare. The investigating director can reproduce him or herself. They can commandeer police or civilian legal and accounting resources at will. We are about to witness an almost biblical wailing and a gnashing of teeth as Batohi arms herself with some of the most potent weapons in our law.
It is absurd to complain, as so many people did on social media after the Agrizzi and other arrests the other day, that Gavin Watson wasn't arrested. Or Dudu Myeni. The arrests last week had nothing to do with Agrizzi's explosive testimony to the Zondo commission. They were the result of an old investigation, all done and dusted, by the Special Investigating Unit. Expect the ones that are completed and have been lying around to happen first. The looting of VBS Mutual Bank is pretty well arrest-ready, I would think. Once the investigating directorate is up and staffed and running, the pace of justice will speed up.
Of course there are lots of people, some still in the government, who'd rather none of this was happening. They will become the targets of investigation. The Estina dairy farm case will be opened again and be done properly this time. An extradition request will be made for the Gupta brothers. Watson and Myeni will indeed be arrested and will go to prison. That's just absolutely going to happen.
For many of the people about to feel the cold touch of Lady Justice, it will be a shock. Clearly politicians like Nomvula Mokonyane simply never even considered living off their salaries. There would always be more from that nice Mr Watson. No wonder she thought she could run the country down and just "pick up" the rand again.
The looters were always delusional. That also makes them dangerous and it is vital, as Ramaphosa begins now to let the axes fall where they may, that he does everything to protect people like Batohi and even Agrizzi from harm. Bodyguards are a hassle but there are too many powerful people in SA with too much to lose if the fight against corruption begins to work. Lives will be at risk.