State Security and Political Immaturity: Tracing the origins of this troubling circus

The responsibility of a country, the success of its government, is not in the hands of a selected few, it’s on all of us. We are free from bias and factions and personal vanities as long as each one of us remembers his/her duty as a South African. We are enablers of a stronger democracy as long as state employees, sworn to protect the state and its people against all enemies, fulfil all that is required of them on a daily basis.

We are required by virtue of our citizenship, by our sworn oath, to demand answers from everyone, to demand the truth, this is our country, this is our government, if we do our job, we will preserve its greatness, not only for ourselves, but for the next generation. We are therefore not in a contest, not in an ego contest, we are not pawns in a media circus, our work is serious work, done by serious men and women. Such commitments are consistent with both our constitution and universal values.

This makes the current spectacle between Acting Police Commissioner General Khomotso Phahlane and IPID Head Robert McBride a betrayal to this commitment; becoming yet another incredulous squabble in our security cluster, playing itself out on the national stage. The pettiness of such spats from grown men, as if they are settling some scores hatched in college about boyish jealousies, using power garnered years later in their lives, makes us as citizens so flabbergasted. But these spats are not new, at least in the post Nelson Mandela epoch.

It is difficult to point out the exact time or even the exact incident that struck the first blow on what had been a strong institutional wall of our security cluster, but since then, that wall has crumbled and came down on the nation with a vengeance.

Our constitution captures our aspirations and our Idealism perfectly when it says, “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”. Even the founding fathers however knew that the application of this principle would need more than legal acumen and constitutional conviction, it would need political maturity.

It is this political wisdom that has been elusive from the first day this prescript of ‘All are equal before the law’ was tested in our security cluster. The first test in the application of ‘All are equal before the law’ came when an investigation was warranted into the then Deputy President (now President), Jacob Zuma. The founding fathers may have assumed that political maturity of the would-be investigators of such consequential cases, would sensitise them to the dangers of vanity when a small guy suddenly has powers over the big guy because of the fairness of the law.

Bulelani Ngcuka was the first National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) entrusted with investigating the second most powerful man in the country. But he proved to be just a rookie, overwhelmed by having so much power under the law. He struck the first blow into the integrity of the NPA, and the institution has never truly recovered.

The first erookie mistake was convening an off-the-record briefing with black editors in July 2003 to discuss his investigation into Deputy President Jacob Zuma. Ngcuka also erred when he declared there was a prima facie case against Zuma, but that he would not be prosecuted. This had the effect of tarnishing Zuma’s reputation without giving him a fair hearing in a court of law. This was not only unnecessary but it was dangerous. What this meant was that the very nature of the Deputy President’s work would have to change, at least in the eyes of the public, such that everywhere the Deputy President would go, there would now be a sudden dark cloud hanging over him, an unnecessary burden on a public figure, meaning that the ‘All equal before the law’ was now reversed to prejudice the Deputy President. More importantly, such pronouncements hang over a high-profile person until he/she retires from public life. Even when the investigation comes to nothing he will always be the ‘Deputy President who was once investigated for such and such’.

When we say ‘All are equal before the law’ we mean every act shall have consequences irrespective of who committed that act. But we don’t mean all investigations shall be conducted the same way because unfortunately, outside the law, society does not treat people equally. People know and accept that ‘all people are equal before the law’ but what they will not take, what they will never accept is when that prescript is used to humiliate and harass leaders. That could never have been the intention of that constitutional prescript.

 

When you finally come out and make an accusation about a Deputy President or a Cabinet Minister, there should be no avenue that has not been explored, no stone unturned, no evidence that has not be tested a thousand times, no reasonable doubt, no doubt whatsoever. The matter must be taken straight to a judge and dealt with in a reasonably short period of time.

Since Ngcuka, numerous NDPP’s have come from obscurity to define their careers by the high-profile people they choose to investigate and the ensuing spectacle. Vusi Pikoli fell into this trap, seeking to define his own career (which by Ngcuka standards meant catching a very high profile person), against the wishes of a President who was alive to the possible all-out war Pikoli decision would cause.

By the time Pikoli became NDPP, we had all learnt from our mistakes and knew that ‘All are equal before the law’, was no excuse to be reckless and not be sensitive on who we are dealing with. What became clear was that we had all learnt this lesson except Pikoli. We were not going to rob him of a career defining move of chasing another high-profile individual and be on prime-time news.

It is a well documented fact that President Mbeki, fresh from the experience of political instability that was caused by the spectacle of a Deputy President investigation, wanted to treat the National Prosecutions Authority investigation into then national police commissioner Jackie Selebi with the sensitivity it deserved. It is no secret that at this stage the SAPS and the Scorpions were almost at tipping point so there was a lot of class and political maturity that was needed. But it was not to be. Another National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) was ready to throw his toys on the floor using the ”Ngcuka 101 Rookie manual”. Another NDPP was to bite the dust.

The most recent rookie mistakes by NDPP Shawn Abrahams coming out to make a spectacle about a sitting Finance Minister Pravin Godhan, another classical ”Ngcuka 101 not to do rookie mistakes”. Luckily by the time Abrahams made a u-turn on charging Pravin Godhan, the country had learnt to separate this rookie behaviour and misuse of state security to harass high profile people with different views so that the scorn was more on Abrahams than leaving a dark cloud on Pravin.

Political Immaturity, reflected in recklessness, arrogance, haphazard decision making, has taken over the republic. The current stand-off between Phahlane and McBride is the latest incident in what has come to define our security cluster. Many given jobs way above their political maturity.

South Africa deserves better. We need to wake up from this nightmare sooner, rather than later.

Diko is the spokesperson of the ANC in the Western Cape. 

Images by South African History Online and News 24 

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