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(Bloomberg) — The suspension of the head of South Africa’s special police investigative unit has sparked accusations by the main opposition party that President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress are attempting to undermine probes into corruption.
While the police ministry attributed Anwa Dramat’s suspension to allegations that he was involved in the illegal repatriation of Zimbabweans in 2010, the boss of the unit known as the Hawks said his probes of “very influential people” made him a target. Several state agencies are investigating allegations of misspending on Zuma’s private home.
“There is a pattern that is emerging,” Francis Antonie, director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, which promotes constitutional democracy, said by phone from Cape Town on Jan. 13. “There is a whole range of state institutions that are coming under extraordinary pressure. This doesn’t help the fight against corruption.”
Doubts over the Zuma administration’s commitment to the rule of law have lingered since he took office in 2009 a month after prosecutors dropped charges of taking bribes from arms dealers against him. In March, South African graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela alleged that Zuma unjustly benefited from a state-funded 215-million-rand ($18.7 million) upgrade on his home in the village of Nkandla and said he should repay some of the money. ANC leaders criticized Madonsela, and the party used its parliamentary majority to absolve Zuma of blame for the misspending.
Zuma, 72, dismissed allegations that he influenced the decision to sanction Dramat.
“The institutions of government will, should it be deemed necessary, take action against certain public servants,” his office said in an e-mailed statement on Dec. 30. “Such action normally forms part of internal disciplinary processes in government departments, which would have nothing to do with the president.”
Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has seized on the decision to suspend Dramat to accuse the ruling party of a systematic attempt to prevent Zuma and his allies from being held to account.
“It is clear that anyone with intentions of shining a light on the murky business dealings of President Zuma and his network of family, friends and officials who depend on him for patronage, will end up on the chopping block,” Zille said in an e-mailed statement on Jan 11.
The Helen Suzman Foundation petitioned the High Court on Jan. 9 to set aside Dramat’s suspension on the grounds that it violated a Nov. 27 Constitutional Court ruling reinforcing the Hawks independence. The case is due to be heard today.
The Hawks, also known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, was established in 2008 to combat, investigate and prevent serious felonies such as organized and commercial crime and corruption.
Dramat was suspended after he refused a request by Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to hand over several case files, including one relating to Zuma’s home upgrade, the Johannesburg- based Sunday Times reported on Dec. 28. Johann Nortje, Dramat’s lawyer, said on Dec. 29 that Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko “clearly got an instruction” to get rid of Dramat because he rejected interference in his investigations.
In a Dec. 30 statement, Phiyega denied allegations that she had requested any case files from Dramat and said the Hawks weren’t probing misspending on Zuma’s home.
The Sunday Times reported that the Hawks are also investigating fraud, corruption and money-laundering charges against John Block, the ANC chairman in Northern Cape province. Block’s trial is scheduled to resume in the provincial high court next month. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
South Africa ranked 67 out of 174 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2014, lagging behind African nations such as Lesotho, Namibia, Rwanda and Ghana. More than 70 percent of South Africans say corruption has worsened since 2010, a survey released by the nation’s statistics office on Dec. 4 showed.
“The constant jockeying for positions and internal controversies in the organizations like the Hawks undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of the state to police itself,” Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy, said by phone yesterday. “This does not bode well for accountability into the future, especially at a time when South Africans are questioning the integrity of the country’s political leadership.” – BLOOMBERG
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