Ferrari, frustration and the fight against corruption in South Africa

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Ferrari, frustration and the fight against corruption in South Africa

Is South Africa taking a step forward in its fight against corruption?

Two powerful images have emerged this week, offering quite contradictory perspectives on the country's long and torturous struggle against high-level corruption and its attempts to mend a broken justice system.

The first photo was of a bright red Ferrari (an FF F151, if you have to know it) confiscated by officials from South Africa's Asset Forfeiture Unit, along with a Bentley convertible, two incredibly opulent villas and other items with a total value of R300m ($ 18,2m; £ 14m).

Since former President Jacob Zuma was removed from office, in disgrace, two years ago, and his successor vowed to wage war against "takeover" - the grand corruption that has flourished so spectacularly in Zuma's time, the public is waiting with growing impatience to see prominent figures arrested and a high-level culture of impunity brought to a brutal end.

Last Monday's car and villa seizures were accompanied by seven arrests, businessmen, provincial government officials and bureaucrats charged with multiple counts of wrongdoing in connection with a huge contract asbestos removal - accounts that all boil down to the basic, and seemingly ubiquitous, public market insider trading.

In other words, businessmen and public officials conspiring to steal taxpayer money by inflating, manipulating or corrupting government contracts.

It was a rare and dramatic moment. And there have been more arrests, and more breakthroughs, since then.

On Wednesday, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) - which recently indicted eight people for the one of modern South Africa's most outrageous corruption scandals involving the looting and collapse of the VBS rural savings bank - revealed that she had struck a deal with a senior civil servant (the “background mechanic,” according to an expert), who should now turn the tide on her co-defendant, and others.

Add to that the constant stream of high-level corruption revelations emanating from the Zondo Commission (an investigation by a judge into the "state capture" which is now working closely with prosecutors and is expected to lay the groundwork criminal charges) and you have what many South Africans are hoping for is a sense of turn, new brooms at work, dominoes falling, and growing momentum in the country's long-awaited cleanup campaign.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has even pledged - at least in principle - to the creation of a powerful new body to fight corruption, enshrined in the constitution, which would be free from political pressures that have seen a an earlier version of one force - the Scorpions - dissolved by a simple majority vote in parliament over ten years ago when it began threatening powerful interests.

These developments in South Africa appear to shake some very powerful figures, including ANC General Secretary Ace Magashule, who this week claimed, without evidence, that he was about to be arrested in a raid. Politically motivated "in Hollywood". , on multiple long-standing allegations - which he denies - of corruption.

`` Are we winning this battle? At this point, I can say that we are not winning. The amount of work to be done is astronomical, to say the least, '' Source: NPA's Shamila Batohi speaking June 2020, Source Description :, Image: Shamila Batoh
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"The wheels of justice are turning," the new NPA official, Shamila Batohi, told parliament this week.

“In the past, these cases may have never seen the interior of a courtroom. "

Courthouse stormed

Good news then.

But there is another picture from the last few days, which some here say offers a more faithful reflection of the state of law enforcement in this country and the scale of the task that still awaits President Cyril. Ramaphosa and his allies.

A video from a courthouse in the small provincial town of Senekal showed a crowd of angry farmers demonstrating in the street, then stormed the building and set a police vehicle on fire. It was Tuesday.

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Although the anger of the farmers is linked to a very specific local event, with possible racial overtones - the gruesome murder of a 22-year-old white man whose body was left hanging from a pole - the incident recalled the profound frustration. felt by many communities across South Africa, where lawlessness and violent crime remain endemic, and vigilantism reflects a deep lack of trust in police, prosecutors and the courts.

Years of underfunding and staff shortages at the NPA, as well as signs of political interference, have led to a widespread loss of confidence in the justice system as a whole.

'New brooms'

"Are we winning this battle?" At this point, I can say that we are not winning. The amount of work to be done is astronomical, to say the least, ”NPA's Batohi admitted earlier this year, citing a chronic shortage. qualified personnel and other resources.

Another of the "new brooms" brought to the NPA to repair the damage of the Zuma era puts it even more bluntly.

“Not only is it broken, it's rotten in places and there are saboteurs undoing the work we're trying to do,” said Hermione Cronje, the NPA's chief investigative officer.

Someone holds up a sign saying "Corruption is the greatest threat to our hard-won democracy" during a trade union strike, Pretoria, South Africa - October 7, 2020COPYRIGHT OF IMAGEGETTY IMAGES
legendWednesday saw a nationwide strike to protest corruption and unemployment, among others

The warning against "saboteurs" in the justice system is a reminder that the battle to fix South Africa's criminal justice system is, to a large extent, a political battle.

“Those who captured the state don't care about the inability of the NPA to do anything with one arm tied behind its back and one eye bandaged,” said Paul Hoffman of the anti-corruption organization Accountability Now.

Everything now depends on the ANC's decision that any senior official accused of corruption must immediately resign from all official positions.

If this happens, President Ramaphosa's position within his own party will be strengthened and his ability to move his cleanup campaign forward will gain momentum.

But if, as seems more likely, the issue gets bogged down in party politics, there is every chance that Mr Ramaphosa's opponents could follow the lead of Mr Zuma - who managed to avoid a trial. for multiple corruption charges, which he has denied, for over a decade.

Behind all of this lies the bigger question of whether a successful crackdown on corruption - welcome as it is - will have a significant impact on South Africa's increasingly dire economic outlook, investors, analysts. and diplomats increasingly warning of an impending debt crisis and even the possibility, later, of a "failed state".

“It's a precarious situation. South Africa is heading for collapse. The economy needs restructuring, but there is no investment. The ANC has no idea what's to come, ”warned businessman and political commentator Moeletsi Mbeki, arguing that the fight against corruption was less of a priority than the need to tackle it. what he called “legal corruption,” that is, entrenched economic interests that resist fundamental reforms.

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