In my new book, Future Tense – Reflections on My Troubled Land, a chapter entitled “Rogue Diplomats” deals with a certain breed of our ambassadors – a fairly long and depressing list of eminences and excellencies who were brought home after their shenanigans here rendered moot their diplomatic functioning overseas.
On the list is our one-time ambassador to Japan, Thulani Dlomo, recalled home from that important trading partner in early 2019.
But whatever damage Dlomo did to our bilateral relations is minor compared to the demolition derby he drove into our constitution as the alleged mastermind of the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) “Project Justice”.
In his recent evidence before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, the author of the high-level review report on the SSA, former minister Sydney Mufamadi, testified that Project Justice’s anodyne title hid the most malign attempt yet recorded to subvert the constitution – no less than bribing judges to make them more amenable to the illegalities wrought by Jacob Zuma.
Of course, it was an open question whether the millions siphoned out of state revenues for this purpose were ever paid to the intended recipients, or whether this was simply a “dangerous ruse to conceal the theft of money”. That was the equally appalling option offered by evidence leader Paul Pretorius, SC.
This is one of the most extraordinary lines of evidence to be heard in public since the advent of democracy here 26 years ago.
Amid millions of words of evidence, the Zondo commission will at some point publish its conclusions. But here and now we face the possibility or probability that a guardian of the law (or several of them) was bribed to suborn his or her judicial office.
Extraordinarily, given that the president of SA was heralded by the Constitutional Court as the “personification of this nation’s constitutional project”, Cyril Ramaphosa has been largely missing in action on the topic. It did not merit one word in his state of the nation address. And he has retained in his executive, in a lesser office, the minister allegedly responsible for delivering the bribe money, David Mahlobo.
Furthermore, though Ramaphosa is credited personally as the architect of the current constitution, he has sat on the Mufamadi report for over two years, and beyond recalling our man in Tokyo and awaiting an eventual outcome from Zondo, has done little with it. This is despite the dagger it thrusts at the very heart of the constitution.
The Zondo commission is hardly the first such setup to be rocked by explosive evidence. In a different, and perhaps, on reflection, a golden age, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission amassed evidence and excruciating testimony on the horrors and depravities of the apartheid regime and aspects of the struggle against it.
This month, the appointment of Dumisa Ntsebeza, SC, as a judge on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was widely and correctly celebrated.
Back in 1997, he was a TRC commissioner when a single witness made lurid claims that Ntsebeza had been involved in the 1993 Heidelberg Tavern massacre. TRC chair Desmond Tutu requested then-president Nelson Mandela, “as a matter of extreme urgency”, to appoint an independent inquiry into this serious allegation. He did not wait for the commission to conclude its work. Mandela instantly obliged.
Within weeks then Constitutional Court justice Richard Goldstone weighed the evidence, published his report, and exonerated Ntsebeza of any involvement. The TRC could continue its work free from any stain.
For perspective, just consider how serious is the evidence now offered not against a single person but against an entire bulwark, the judicial arm of the state, the essential pillar of the rule of law.
If a judge or judges were bribed, this needs to be here and now interrogated, exposed and interdicted. It is the very definition of treason. The fact that Mahlobo was apparently handling suitcases of millions of rands and ferrying them to Nkandla and beyond is another and equally compelling matter crying out for resolution.
Though Ramaphosa in a recent newsletter expressed concern about claims of judicial bribery and baseless attacks on judges, he simply suggested that evidence be offered to the Judicial Service Commission to investigate.
This, with respect, is a cop-out. His own director-general of intelligence has suggested the claims are credible, not wildly inaccurate. The president harbours at the heart of his executive the alleged conveyer of stolen funds. Yet he waits for others to act.
Ramaphosa is fond of quoting the words of Nelson Mandela. He would do well to follow his example.
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications.
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