If Glynnis Breytenbach were Minister of Justice…

What would Glynnis Breytenbach do if she were the Minister of Justice? In a face-to-face interview from the Latitude Aparthotel studio in Cape Town, BizNews asks her for solutions. Breytenbach, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister of Justice, says that her first priority would be to ensure that the functionality of the criminal justice system was restored. “The entire system needs a serious overhaul, and that includes the police, the prosecution, the judiciary and correctional services.” Currently, Breytenbach is working hard towards the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission that would relieve the overburdened National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of the task of prosecuting very high-level corruption- and organised crime cases. She is optimistic that the bill will sail through Parliament – with the expected support from the African National Congress (ANC) – and that the Commission could be set up within about a year – and that this completely independent Chapter 9 institution could start prosecuting these complex cases within 18 months so that South Africans can start seeing accountability and consequences. – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:28 – Glynnis Breytenbach on the state of the Justice Deparment in SA and what changes she would make if she were Justice Minister
  • 06:35 – On if the dire state of the Justice Department can be turned around timeously
  • 07:22 – On the National Prosecuting Authority
  • 11:20 – On the public scepticism toward the Justice Department and NPA
  • 12:49 – On the safety and protection of whistleblowers in SA
  • 15:59 – On the Anti-Corruption Commission Bill
  • 18:40 – On the endemic corruption in South Africa
  • 20:27 – On the timeline for the Anti-Corruption Commission Bill
  • 21:16 – On what drives her passion for justice
  • 22:51 – On her relationships with the Ministers of Police and Justice and the Thabo Bester debacle
  • 24:11 – On President Cyril Ramaphosa
  • 24:42 – On the state of justice in South Africa
  • 25:52 – Concludes

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Highlights from the interview

What would Glynnis Breytenbach do if she were the Minister of Justice?

She shares her goals with BizNews in a face-to-face interview from the Latitude Aparthotel studio in Cape Town.

Breytenbach, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister of Justice, says that right now her priority would be to ensure that the functionality of the criminal justice system was restored.

“The entire system needs a serious overhaul, and that includes the police, the prosecution, the judiciary and correctional services.” 

Breytenbach says she would also ensure that the administration in the Department of Justice upped its game.”

Read more: Glynnis Breytenbach: Beating SA’s corrupt, reform criminal justice – dynamite

Some of the burning issues are courts not sitting because the court machinery doesn’t work, while some sit for only an hour and 10 minutes on average a day; a lot of dead wood, and very little skills retention with not sufficient mentorship to bring people up the ranks; court interpreters not being treated professionally – and having very little training available; “terrible” contract management; and a budget not spent wisely.”

The former crack prosecutor would also instil discipline. “There’s very little discipline. I’m a great believer in discipline – and I would enforce discipline…Prosecutors need to be in court prosecuting, not sitting about.”

Breytenbach would also like to see a “more responsive” National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Breytenbach says the cases she would most like to see prioritised now for prosecution are certain State Capture cases. “I’d like to see three or four in court right now…”

Read more: DA goes to court to compel Putin Arrest – Glynnis Breytenbach

She believes that doing so could reignite “the hunger that South Africans have for accountability and consequences for antisocial behaviour”.

As for the hundreds of Apartheid-era cases referred to the NPA by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Breytenbach points out that former Vlakplaas Commander Eugene de Kock was the only one prosecuted. “There were many other people higher up the food chain who should have been held accountable. Most of them now have died. And so those families are being left with no possibility of closure….So I would like to have seen that done.”

Breytenbach would also like to see organised crime cases prosecuted more effectively; Crime Intelligence (CI) built up; and more – and better – training for judges.

Currently, Breytenbach is working hard towards the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission that would relieve the overburdened NPA of prosecuting very high-level corruption and organised crime cases.

Asked how soon that could happen, Breytenbach – who is counting on the support of the African National Congress (ANC) – says: “So before Parliament rises next year, one hopes that this bill will go through. The Commission can be set up within the space of around a year.”

Read more: Eskom pales in comparison to downfall of SAPS and NPA – Saunderson-Meyer

As for how soon the completely independent Chapter 9 institution could start prosecuting highly complex cases, Breytenbach says: “With the cooperation of the National Prosecuting Authority on the outside, within 18 months.”

Breytenbach and her colleagues in the Justice Portfolio of the DA are also working on a new Whistleblowing bill that could give whistleblowers more incentives – and better protection.

As for what drives her fight for justice, she says: “I always fight for the underdog.”

Meanwhile, she is still fuming that the ministers of police and justice did not lose their jobs over the Thabo Bester escape scandal. “I believe that because of that, just that little scenario, the Minister of Justice (Ronald Lamola) and the Minister of Police (Bheki Cele) would have resigned if they had any ounce of integrity. And when they didn’t resign, the president (Cyril Ramaphosa), bless him, should have fired them. But, of course, that also won’t happen because that would require him to do something.”

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