Some of you may be watchers of the excellent American political drama series, House of Cards. It portrays the ruthless manipulation of people and forces by Democrat majority whip, Frank Underwood, in his quest to attain political power. Throughout the series, Underwood — his eyes firmly on the top seat — sacrifices just about every moral principle in favour of cold and calculated personal interest.
The title, House of Cards, is spot-on. The political structure put in place to support Underwood’s rise to the top is precarious. Dislodging a card on one side inevitably has a knock-on effect elsewhere. Sometimes his “victims”, by nature of this flimsy structure, are multiple. And once he’s set things in motion, he must follow through, regardless of how the casualties pile up.
I recently started watching the series, which makes riveting viewing, and is now in its third season. But don’t worry if you’ve missed it, because our very own House of Cards is unfolding as we speak. And it makes Frank Underwood look like a rank amateur.
The machinations employed by Jacob Zuma to remain the most powerful man in the ANC and South Africa are far more devious (and dangerous) than anything you’ll find in the TV series. He has been playing this like a game of chess, always thinking several moves ahead.
At stake is absolutely everything: if he relinquishes power, he not only loses access to the money-pot of state contracts, kickbacks and privileges for him and his extended network, he also loses his protection from investigation and prosecution for a long list of corrupt activities. He has to stay in power to stay out of jail. That’s all he cares about right now.
Like Underwood’s ambitious plans, Zuma’s scheme to hold on to power relies on many allies occupying the right positions and doing exactly as they are told. When one of these cards starts to wobble, the whole house is threatened. And when the offending card is removed, it’s normally more than one card that gets sacrificed.
I have written many recent newsletters on this topic. If you read back a couple of months through the SA Today archives, you’ll get a fairly comprehensive picture of just how advanced Zuma’s “state capture” project is. It is far too complex to re-cap in detail here, so I will dive straight into the latest brazen episode: The baffling staying power of Nomgcobo Jiba.
Who is Nomgcobo Jiba? Officially, she is the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions — the second-in-charge at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Unofficially, she’s Zuma’s agent inside the NPA, deployed to do his dirty work. You’d be hard-pressed to find an official more unfit for his or her job than Jiba. The only reason she was not elevated to the top job when the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in December 2011 that her predecessor, Menzi Simelani, failed the legal test of being “fit and proper” for the position, was because President Zuma (who has the power to make the appointment) knew Jiba’s appointment would also be overturned in court.
Indeed, Jiba has a shameful record of criminal transgressions, accumulated in her current role. At this point I should add that the only person who can fire the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions is also Jacob Zuma. Armed with this nugget of knowledge, most of what follows will make some kind of sense.
On Tuesday it was reported that Jiba had gone into hiding following a tip-off that SAPS were about to issue a summons, requesting that she appear in court on 21 April to answer charges of fraud and perjury.
These charges stem from her botched attempt to build a trumped-up criminal case, including charges of murder and racketeering, against KZN Hawks boss, Major-General Johan Booysen, so that he could be removed from his job. Booysen’s “mistake” — and the reason he had become a target — was his refusal to back down from investigating corruption charges against, amongst others, six ANC MECs from KwaZulu-Natal, the KZN Police Commissioner and the Zuma-connected businessman, Toshan Panday.
Despite the best attempts of Jiba — and later also the National Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega — to get rid of him since August 2012, Booysen has stood firm. He has since been cleared, both in court and in an internal disciplinary hearing, of any wrongdoing.
Jiba’s conduct in the matter, on the other hand, was described by Durban High Court Judge, Trevor Gorven, as unconstitutional. In a scathing judgment, he said that the charges she had concocted — which she supposedly based on a statement that only came into existence two weeks later — “did not meet even the barest of minimum requirements”.
This is what led to her being investigated for fraud and perjury. And this investigation is what convinced the NPA to issue a summons for her to appear in court. A summons which was stamped by a clerk of the court, handed to a SAPS officer and, because Jiba had mysteriously vanished from both her work and her home, delivered to her boss, Mxolisi Nxasana.
For two days, no one knew where she was. She didn’t answer phonecalls, emails or SMSs. During this time, the National Police Commissioner (Phiyega) launched an unprecedented damage-control campaign designed to protect Jiba.
A SAPS statement was sent out with a confusing message about the supposed invalidity of the summons (including the strange suggestion that such a summons should have been initiated by the police and not the NPA). Phiyega herself phoned Nxasana, twice, to question and obstruct the summons. And the investigating officer — the man responsible for bringing the investigation to a point where the NPA were comfortable to successfully prosecute — was allegedly removed from the case.
This kind of interference in the NPA’s work by a police commissioner is unheard of. Why exactly would SAPS — or, more specifically, Phiyega — leap to Jiba’s defence, in the face of a damning body of evidence? Unless, of course, Phiyega is also taking her orders from the same higher office.
This is not Jiba’s first serious violation of the law during her time at the NPA. It’s not even her first accusation of perjury. As acting director, she was charged, along with Lawrence Mrwebi (national head of the specialised commercial crime unit) and Sibongile Mzinyathi (North Gauteng director of public prosecutions) with perjury relating to their decision to withdraw fraud, money laundering and corruption charges against disgraced former crime intelligence boss, Richard Mdluli.
Both the North Gauteng High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal delivered scathing judgments of their blatant attempts to shield Mdluli from justice. (Mdluli, a staunch Zuma ally, is believed to have more “dirt” on top politicians than just about anyone else, which would explain his charmed life.)
Jiba also played a central role in preventing the DA from accessing the infamous Spy Tapes (until all delaying tactics, through six successive court appearances, were finally exhausted and the NPA was eventually forced to hand them over). Again, she came in for harsh criticism from the appeal court judge, who said her conduct was “not worthy of the office of the NDPP”.
Four separate courts have condemned Jiba’s behaviour in frustrating or obstructing justice, and yet the president still considers her fit to hold office.
And it’s not only the courts. NPA director, Nxasana, commissioned a report by a retired Constitutional Court judge into the turmoil at the NPA. The Yacoob Report made damning findings against Jiba and Mrwebi. Delivered to Zuma’s office in October 2014, he ignored it for months. And when he finally announced in February that he was going to establish an inquiry into the NPA, it wasn’t Jiba or Mrwebi that he was targeting. Instead he decided to go after Nxasana. You don’t have to be a detective to see what’s happening here.
It’s a purge, plain and simple. A purge of anyone who looks to be a threat to Zuma’s grip on power. There can be no other explanation for the likes of the disgraced Jiba and Mrwebi enjoying presidential protection while the person attempting to expose them — Nxasana — becomes the target.
Unfortunately for Zuma (and, by proxy, Jiba, Mrwebi, Phiyega and a host of other cogs in the Zuma power machine), it doesn’t look like Nxasana is going to surrender meekly. If his press conference on Friday — where he pulled no punches in questioning Phiyega’s meddling in the issuing of a legitimate summons — is anything to go by, he seems prepared to go down swinging if he has to.
Sadly, the same can not be said for another high-profile victim of Zuma’s relentless purge — Hawks head, Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat (who was suspended in December by the Police minister on spurious charges relating to the rendition of Zimbabwean nationals in 2010).
His suspension came right after he requested that the Nkandla file be handed to the Hawks for investigation. He also happens to be the only person who can fire the KZN Hawks boss, Johan Booysen — something which he refuses to do. His suspension has now allowed Zuma to replace him with a pliable yes-man in Major General Berning Ntlemeza, who’s feet had barely hit the ground in the Hawks office when he began getting rid of “troublesome” characters.
Initially Dramat was up for the fight. The Helen Suzman Foundation challenged the legality of his suspension in court, and won. For a while it seemed like an important part of Zuma’s house of cards would collapse. But that fight seems well and truly extinguished, no doubt aided by the promise of a R3 million payout plus R60 000 a month for the next 14 years (until Dramat is 60). That’s a total of R13 million for someone who, according to those getting rid of him, committed a serious criminal offense. Does anyone actually believe that?
Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a R13 million bribe, and it looks like it might be just enough to make Dramat retreat quietly.
And if Dramat is to take the money and disappear, then it becomes necessary for another card to be sacrificed too. By exonerating Dramat in an investigation into the Zimbabwean rendition case, the head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Robert McBride, has made himself an uncomfortable obstacle to the great purge.
If he says Dramat didn’t do it, then the plan to fire Dramat falls flat, bribe or no bribe. So McBride also has to go. The police minister has duly suspended him over alleged “irregularities” in the rendition report, and replaced him with Free State IPID head, Israel Kgamanyane, as acting head.
Again, anyone prepared to take a step back will see the full picture: McBride is just another necessary sacrifice to pave the way for a complete capture of all investigative and prosecutorial bodies of state.
At last head count, Zuma had parachuted Phiyega in at SAPS, Ntlemeza at the Hawks, Moyane at SARS and is fast finalising plans to replace Nxasana at the NPA with someone he can trust to look the other way.
With whom? Well, that’s anyone’s guess right now, but the DA will be keeping clause 9.1.(b) of the National Prosecution Authority Act firmly in mind: Jacob Zuma’s appointee must be “fit and proper”. It is the only protection we have against the elevation of Nomgcobo Jiba.
Some analysts believe the greatest weakness of our constitution is the power it concentrates in the hands of the President to appoint people to top positions in institutions that are supposed to be politically independent, and operate in a fair, just and unbiased manner.
But then again, our constitution drafters could not have envisaged, in their wildest dreams, that voters would voluntarily elect someone as President against whom 16 charges on 783 counts of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering, were suddenly and inexplicably withdrawn just weeks before the election.
A functional democracy is based on the assumption that an electorate makes informed choices. And in a democracy, nothing can save the people from themselves.