Antiquity’s mythologies – of malevolence and mischief, hubris and human weakness – echoed through the testimony of former national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Mxolisi Nxasana at the inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
But it came to a shuddering halt after lunch when commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, ruled that no evidence relating to implicated parties, including former acting head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Nomgcobo Jiba, would be led in the afternoon unless it already existed in the public domain; in court judgments and findings of commissions of inquiry, among others.
There have been several damning judgments critical of the conduct of Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, the head of the NPA’s Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit, and their fitness to occupy office. The commission of inquiry into that very fitness, chaired by retired Constitutional Court Judge Yvonne Mokgoro, found, among others, that Jiba had compromised the independence of the NPA and that Mrwebi “lacked understanding of the law”.
Zondo’s decision came after Jiba’s lawyer, advocate Vuyani Ngalwana, made submissions after the lunch break, arguing that the commission’s rules required it to have informed his client of the appearance of the witness and to provide her legal team with Nxasana’s statement.
Ngalwana also questioned whether Nxasana’s testimony was “timed in order to prejudice Ms Jiba”, whose sacking by President Cyril Ramaphosa is to be considered by the National Assembly. Ramaphosa had acted on the recommendations of the Mokgoro commission.
Zondo assured Ngalwana that Nxasana appeared at the commission at short notice on his “directive”, because he was seeking to unravel the mess of knots that appeared to have incapacitated the state’s investigating and prosecuting institutions during president Jacob Zuma’s tenure. As such, there was nothing nefarious about the timing of the testimony or the commission’s inability to issue a notice to Jiba.
Before the lunch break, Nxasana’s testimony appeared to reinforce perceptions that Zuma’s presidential style thrived on chaos and instability. In this, he appeared to have a perfect foil in Jiba: her Eris, the Greek goddess of discord and chaos to his god of war, Ares.
Digging up dirt
Nxasana told the commission that between the announcement of his appointment on 31 August 2013 and his taking up the position in October of that year, he became aware of a dirty tricks campaign against him that involved Jiba and various police officers in KwaZulu-Natal.
He said that during September 2013, he learnt “that there were people running around the township I grew up in, the township of Umlazi” in Durban asking neighbours and residents about his history and “especially” charges of murder against him from 1985. He was acquitted and found to have acted in self-defence.
Nxasana said he initially thought this was part of the normal vetting process by state intelligence agencies until he received an “unsolicited” email and affidavit from Terence Joubert, who was based at the NPA in Durban.
The email said “there was a campaign by advocate Jiba to dig the dirt on me. The whole intention was to embarrass me so that President Zuma would remove me as national director,” Nxasana said.
Joubert further informed Nxasana that two police officers assigned to Jiba ally advocate Moipone Noko, the provincial director of public prosecutions, had received vehicles and been “tasked with going around and finding any dirt on me”.
Nxasana alleged that inquiries had been made by Jiba’s agents into the Road Accident Fund, so as to build allegations against him that he had embezzled client’s money while practising as an attorney. Another NPA employee, Queen Mhlongo, who worked at the Asset Forfeiture Unit in Durban had also, unsolicited, told Nxasana that a police officer identified as Colonel Mhlongo – whom Nxasana knew – had bragged to her that he had enough dirt on him to ensure he was fired. Mhlongo allegedly claimed he had been promised a promotion by crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli – another murky figure in Zuma’s shadow state – if the information led to Nxasana’s sacking.
Dirty tricks campaign
Nxasana said he soon learnt that then justice minister Jeff Radebe had “promised” Jiba “she was going to be appointed on a permanent basis”.
He also alleged that Jiba had run a dirty tricks “campaign to discredit” Zuma’s initial choice as NPA boss, regional magistrate Stanley Gumede. He said this involved an advocate making false complaints about Gumede’s treatment of her during a hearing. The matter was reported to the Magistrates Commission and was “all over the media”, causing Gumede to decline the position.
Court judgments and the findings of the Mokgoro commission into Jiba and Mrwebi’s fitness to hold office has rendered trite the case against them – and shown that they were apparently interested in nothing other than destabilising the NPA and ensuring the prosecution of people considered enemies of the Zuma regime, such as former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss General Johan Booysens.
In previous evidence before the Zondo commission, Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi talked of how his boss, Gavin Watson – who was allegedly dishing out between R4 million and R6 million in bribes to politicians and other connected people in the state every month – had referred to Jiba as “The Snake” and Mrwebi as “The Snail”. Agrizzi testified that Watson had told him Mrwebi and Jiba were involved in making investigations into Bosasa’s operations disappear.
Eris, Homer notes in the ancient Greek poem The Iliad, “is the sister and companion of Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.”
More evidence against the Zuma regime of kleptocracy and pillaging is laid bare daily at the Zondo commission. Likewise, the realisation that the “heavier pain” caused by the regime’s modus operandi – of a discordant state and destabilised institutions – will take decades to remedy. Especially when people like “The Snake” and “The Snail” and many other “captured” are positioned so strategically at the heart of government departments, Chapter 9 Institutions (state entities that support constitutional democracy), state-owned enterprises, the prosecuting authority, intelligence and investigative organisations, municipalities and in every other nook and cranny of the country.
A Zuma legacy which continues to have a slow poison effect on South Africa.