The new Shamila Scorpions show Cyril is ready to take on his own ANC

10 February 2019 - 00:07

It is probably a sad commentary - an indictment in fact - on our public discourse that the days preceding this week's state of the nation address were mostly dominated by whether the EFF would, as is their wont, spoil President Cyril Ramaphosa's big night. The red berets were once again punching above their weight and undeservedly hogging the limelight.
Sona had, under Jacob Zuma, become the EFF's night to shine, reducing the occasion to an unsightly spectacle that was unbecoming of the people's parliament. The former president was of course a sitting duck for the EFF. Corrupt and highly compromised, he had rightly earned the disdain of the public that seemed to enjoy the barracking he was getting.
Ramaphosa is something of a challenge for the EFF. The punches don't alway land that easily. The president's bobbing and weaving on Bosasa had offered a little opening that Julius Malema had promised to exploit in parliament.
But apart from some innocuous intervention by Malema and his deputy - probably out of boredom or some desire for attention - there was no interruption. Malema was later teased about "chickening out", but he said Ramaphosa had come clean on Bosasa.
Another EFF target was in the house. Shamila Batohi, the new national director of public prosecutions, sat by herself. Her isolation seemed a metaphor: it is lonely at the top. She was actually the biggest winner of the night. Not only did Ramaphosa emphasise again and again her independence from any political interference, he also announced a new investigative directorate to go after the organ grinders - and their monkeys - of state capture.
The unit will fall directly under Batohi at the National Prosecuting Authority, making her probably the most consequential person of his presidency. How she decides to wield her powers will to a large extent determine Ramaphosa's fate. If she succeeds, he wins.
The new unit is probably one of a few pointers that indicate Ramaphosa is now confident to take on his foes. Other pointers were breaking up Eskom into three parts and restructuring the intelligence services and bringing them closer under his wing. He's treading in what was forbidden territory of the Zuma ANC and the decisions are likely to be strongly resisted by some within his own organisation.
Action speaks louder than words. Apart from electing Zuma as president, the ANC Polokwane conference also decided to destroy the Scorpions, which at the time had prepared comprehensive corruption charges against its hero. Immediately after the conference, the organisation responded with a demonic scramble to convince a sceptical public, rushed a law through parliament, and people, like then president Thabo Mbeki, who were seen as an obstacle, were pushed aside. The arrogance of those involved was something to behold. It was one of the darkest periods in the country's history.
There are individuals who must now look back in horror and embarrassment at the roles they played in the demise of the Scorpions. It was all a political gambit to benefit one man. Needless to say, the death of the Scorpions opened the sluice gates to corruption, culminating in what we've come to know as state capture.
The return of the Scorpions-like unit is not only an admission by the ANC that it made a mistake, it indicates that Ramaphosa now feels emboldened to chart his own course. It also means that he has no confidence that the Hawks, who replaced the Scorpions, are properly geared to do the job. The Hawks have never lived down the reputation that they were established to serve Zuma's machinations.
Under the thuggish Berning Ntlemeza - appointed despite having been branded a liar by a high court - the Hawks have been sitting on their hands despite obvious evidence of criminality. Their vain attempt, with the connivance of Shaun Abrahams, to prefer spurious charges against Pravin Gordhan has probably dealt them a terminal blow. They have also been as malleable as they have been incorrigibly incompetent. Soon after Ramaphosa was elected president last year, the unit, with great fanfare, raided the Estina dairy farm in the Free State and the Gupta compound in Saxonwold, and arrested a number of individuals. Both cases were later thrown out of court.
This week, on the eve of Sona, the Hawks were at it again, suddenly rounding up suspects who were fingered in an SIU investigation on Bosasa done 10 years ago. The impression that the Hawks' intentions were simply to muddy the waters was inescapable.
By resuscitating a Scorpions unit, Ramaphosa has taken on his party. It is no exaggeration to say that, under Zuma, the ANC has almost become a criminal syndicate. Too many of its cadres live beyond their means, or from ill-gotten gains, and will regard the unit's second coming as a declaration of war. But it is a fight that Ramaphosa should not shy away from. That quote from Theodore Roosevelt at the end of his speech shows that a scrap is coming and he's prepared for it.
He should, however, not repeat Mbeki's fatal mistake of selectively interfering in the work of the unit. Scrupulously keeping his distance will have the added advantage of eliminating his political foes without his fingerprints on the victims.
And so, it's over to you, Ms Batohi. No pressure, but the future of the country lies on your tiny shoulders. Good luck.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.