NPA’s Batohi soothes compatriots waiting to exhale

Most South Africans could be said to be eternal optimists. That, or completely out of touch with reality. We had PW Botha and the Rubicon he didn’t cross, Madiba freed and the 1994 democratic elections and the False Dawn, Ramaphoria (and the Rubicon he’s trying to cross), and the Zondo and Nugent (and a plethora of) commissions exposing the mind-boggling extent of State Capture. Each time our hearts leap, we draw a euphoric breath and then, ever so very slowly, let it out again. Repeat. It’s just the way we breathe. The six-month-tenured NPA boss, Shamila Batohi, with her stellar CV, knows this and is putting a lot of energy into reassuring us that her team is slowly but surely, assembling the cloth and stitching to enable the courts to custom-fit and clothe each public and private miscreant in orange overalls. Get the exact weave and thickness wrong, or stitch using cotton too weak and the overall won’t fit the wearer. The alleged miscreants’ preferred tailor has a holiday bag packed with expensive baggies/bikinis, air tickets to Dubai or Mauritius and a taxpayer-funded mini-pack of Moët & Chandon. Batohi is painfully aware where her predecessors and their political bosses put their energies. Hope springs eternal. Now it lies with her and Cyril. Story courtesy of Daily Maverick. – Chris Bateman

NPA boss: We’ll prosecute the corrupt – but please be patient

By Greg Nicolson

Since coming into office in February 2019, National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi has offered hope that the NPA might finally start to act without fear or favour. She inherited an office where political influence has reigned over prosecutorial decisions, where no NDPP has finished a full term. But Batohi comes with a stellar CV and was the first NPA leader appointed through a transparent interview process.

Almost six months into her job, she understands the public is restless. The State Capture Inquiry has added meat to existing corruption allegations while many of those implicated have either begun a brazen public defence campaign or are lying low with their loot and relying on the NPA to continue to do the little it’s done to combat systemic greed.

“People say to me, ‘We want to see people in orange overalls,’ ” said Batohi on Wednesday evening, speaking at the sixth annual Kader Asmal Lecture in Sandton.

She continued to focus on the issues she has prioritised since she was appointed and while her sincere delivery inspired confidence, at times it felt she was rehashing sections of speeches she has previously delivered.

The issues are the same, but the promise of change has given rise to increased hope and greater expectations.

We’ve seen it before. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s election inspired hope in some quarters. There’s always hope a Bafana Bafana victory might be the start of a turnaround. But unemployment rises, Ramaphosa faces a Bosasa scandal and Bafana lose, again. Hope appears foolish and cynicism and despair take the wheel.

Batohi is fighting against time.

She acknowledged that corruption and violent crime have become endemic and said:

“We have a very small window of opportunity to turn the situation around.”

“Corruption has become so widespread that there is a real danger of it becoming entrenched and normalised in South Africa unless something serious happens soon. For too long, corrupt politicians, government employees and business leaders have acted almost with impunity to plunder the scarce resources of our country.”

“People will be arrested and I think people do want to see that the wheels of justice are turning,” she continued.

Batohi said there are “dangerously low levels” of public confidence in the criminal justice system:

“The people don’t trust us. The people don’t trust their own lawyers.”

But it’s not as simple as appointing a new NDPP and curtailing political influence on investigations and prosecutorial decisions (Batohi said she told Ramaphosa she would not tolerate attempts to interfere with the NPA’s work and said she hadn’t experienced any such attempts since coming into office).

The NPA leadership has been unstable, to say the least, and members face their own allegations of impropriety. There has been an exodus of skilled staff at both the NPA and other institutions in the criminal justice system. Little training is taking place and morale is low.

“You have to appreciate the enormity of the challenges that face not just the NPA, it’s the criminal justice system,” said Batohi, noting the efforts put in over the years to ensure cases are not investigated.

“People also don’t realise that it’s not like the criminal justice system has been working so efficiently over the years that now that you have a new national director, cases like this are ready to go to court.”

“When we do it we want to make sure that we get it right because those that are arrested, those that will be arrested, will certainly hire the most competent silks… people they will pay a lot of money to and make a lot of lawyers very rich in fighting these cases,” she said.

Batohi didn’t elaborate on her suggestion that the NPA had become an enabler of corruption, but said she had reviewed a number of her predecessors’ decisions and wondered why few resources were being allocated to cases such as Bosasa while other matters received great attention. She appeared to be referring to the prosecution of Johan Booysen, against whom she recently dropped charges.

Batohi said people are looking to her office to hold the rich and powerful accountable and to recoup the “insane amount” of money pilfered.

“The people of our country are tired, understandably, and they deserve nothing less,” she said.

The NDPP called for the public to judge the NPA, not by her words, but the institution’s actions. Its credibility now relies on whether and when it acts on high-profile corruption cases in both the private and public sectors and how it manages the attacks that will follow.

“Your patience is going to be tested a little longer,” said Batohi, characteristically frank as confidence in the criminal justice system largely rests on her shoulders. DM

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