Grootes: The NPA going down (in)fighting
If the arms deal is our democracy's original sin, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is the dispute between Cain and Abel. Since it was formed it has been the site of contest, faction pitted against faction for control of the one body that has the power to lay criminal charges. On Wednesday, in one of those unscripted moments that occurs in this country sometimes, we suddenly got an insight into the real struggle for power. It is revealing in that the fight that has been played out in the shadows is slowly coming out into the open.
On Wednesday, talk radio had one of those moments you just can't script, a moment that makes it superior to music radio [Stephen, you have two jobs - we know! - Ed]. John Robbie was doing his usual shoot-from-the-hip thing on Talk Radio 702, when he made a comment, a joke, about the head of the NPA's internal integrity unit being suspended. It was a 'ho ho ho' about whether the head of internal integrity had integrity. Then, amazingly, the man himself, Prince Mokotedi, phoned in, demanding right of reply, the chance to just put a few facts to the public. Mokotedi seems to be at the heart of some of the power struggles that are playing out. Robbie immediately gave him all the time he wanted.
At issue is the claim that Mokotedi leaked the report his unit drafted on former NPA prosecutor, and now DA MP, Glynnis Breytenbach to the media. The report was leaked last week, and seemed to suggest that she was guilty of serious misconduct. But the release of the report appears to break the terms of the agreement that saw Breytenbach leaving the NPA. Mokotedi felt the need to say that he is confident he will survive his disciplinary hearing. Then he went further.
Mokotedi said he welcomed the hearing "because it will be the first time a so-called Zuma man will come out and enter the public platform to put across my side, or their side, of the story".
This is an amazing statement. It seems to be proof, from one of the central actors in this Biblical-style drama, that there is indeed what's being called a "Zuma faction" within the NPA. Now, unless you have never come across this publication before, you'll know that many, many people have long had their suspicions that this is indeed what is happening. That President Jacob Zuma has indeed been trying to control the NPA through various means. The fact he appointed advocate Menzi Simelane, who had been publicly found guilty prima facie of lying under oath to the Ginwala Commission, would appear, to many people, to be proof of this thesis.
Now Mokotedi has given us more evidence to support this proposition. As Breytenbach herself put it on the Midday Report after the Mokotedi interview, it's "somewhat disconcerting to hear that someone in charge of the Internal Integrity Unit there considers himself a Zuma-man, when you would expect everyone there who's doing their job there [to be] as objective as possible".
Well, indeed, one would expect that, wouldn't one? Unless of course one was incredibly cynical because of what one has seen happen at the NPA in the past.
On that point, Robbie was careful to take the opportunity to ask Mokotedi why he felt there was so much turmoil in the NPA at the moment (to summarise the turmoil itself: The NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana has had his security clearance rejected; it's claimed his deputy advocate Nomcgobo Jiba has refused to give him the Richard Mdluli case file as a result; the NPA's head of commercial crimes Advocate Lawrence is, we're told, going to be arrested for alleged obstruction of justice; and the Justice Minister himself has asked all the factions to stop fighting each other.) Mokotedi's public analysis of the situation is that the turmoil, or power struggle if you prefer, is the result of the "legacy of the Scorpions".
This deserves some careful thought. The Scorpions were dissolved in 2008. A long time ago now [_especially in NPA time-terms - Ed]. _Its capacity was supposed to be absorbed into the Hawks, so presumably many of the people who worked for the Scorpions no longer fall within the NPA. That said, once you create an "elite" group within an organisation, and then disband that group, the people involved, if they stay on, may well have a different attitude to the organisation, and the people they work with.
So the balance, then, is: do we believe it's the legacy of the Scorpions, or do we believe it's political meddling, perhaps by Zuma himself?
At this point, though, the main point that must be considered is: why did Mokotedi decide to call in to Robbie in the first place? Based on personal experience, I can tell you that Robbie is always worth talking to. But in this case, Mokotedi was taking a huge risk. Even if he is found innocent of all the claims against him in his disciplinary, surely talking about an internal issue (especially after the Justice Minister Michael Masutha asked all the people involved not to talk in public about the NPA's issues/problems/power struggles) could lose him his job.
Was he stung by a comment on his integrity, even if it was just a humorous aside? Was it because he's throwing caution to the wind, and thinks stuff it, he's going to lose his job anyway, he may as well go down fighting?
Or is there something else going on here? The last five weeks have seen huge headlines, mainly in the Sunday papers, around the NPA. It is clear that the people involved are getting more desperate. If they were confident of victory, they wouldn't be going to the media - it's always risky, you don't get to control how it plays, and you run the risk of it blowback. This means that clearly one faction is winning ground internally, and the other faction has decided to go public. This is what factions do, whether they are in the NPA, or in the ANC's national executive committee. If they're losing internally, they go external.
This may mean - stress the 'may' - that the man who is technically in charge, Nxasana, is actually gaining some ground. He's been the quietest of the groups, responding only to queries, and not going on the offensive. Perhaps.
But the man who is really in charge, who ultimately has the power to do something about all of this, is of course Number One. We have been waiting for three weeks now for a decision that only he can make, on the future of Nxasana. As Corruption Watch head David Lewis put it this week, "If fighting corruption is a priority, surely sorting out the NPA would be a priority".
So then, if there is no decision - if the NPA is not sorted out - if it is kept weak, we have to ask once again: who benefits?
Stephen Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes
This column appeared on Daily Maverick.