NPA Reaching Solid Ground To Deliver Justice – A Year In Review

By Adv Anton du Plessis

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is mandated to uphold the rule of law by bringing suspected criminals to justice and claiming back stolen money. Calls for swift and effective accountability are growing louder, and many South Africans are questioning whether the NPA is up to the task.

So how has the NPA actually fared?

The NPA’s most recent annual report for 2021/2022, tabled in Parliament recently, paints a fact-based picture of an organisation on the move. The task of the NPA leadership is to rebuild the NPA so that it can deliver on its mandate now and into the future, and withstand any repeat threats of capture. But we also need to deliver on priority matters now, and communicate our impact to the public who are rightfully demanding to see justice and accountability as the norm, not the exception, in South Africa.

After a difficult 2020/2021 where our performance was negatively impacted by Covid-19 and budget shortfalls, we launched a number of tailored interventions to address priority challenges. These paid off and our overall performance has improved markedly.  Conviction rates are sharply up in a number of key areas, particularly when it comes to two of society’s greatest ills: corruption and gender-based violence. And we have also recovered huge sums of stolen money.

Responding to high-level corruption is NPA’s number one priority

We are making important progress on prosecuting high-level corruption. But we know we need to move even faster and further. South Africans rightly set the rule of law bar very high, and they expect a lot from the NPA in this regard. Our history and current reality demands this. Yet, the NPA has not been sitting idly waiting for Zondo Commission reports. We’ve been rebuilding and upskilling the organisation to meet the growing demands for accountability in our crime-ridden country. The ubiquitous taps of corruption and rent-seeking are being closed, and accountability is becoming a scary prospect for those who assumed they could act with impunity.

The NPA’s leading state capture corruption unit, the Investigating Directorate (ID), has enrolled over 20 matters, charged 65 accused and with the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) obtained freezing orders to the value of R5.5 billion, including the single biggest restraint of R3.78 billion obtained with respect to Optimum Coal Mine – a major asset in the Gupta network.

Under new leadership, the ID has entered an exciting era. It has rebuilt staff morale and cohesion, brought in additional skills, put in place much needed systems and processes, and critically, deepened its partnership and collaboration with key actors in the criminal justice system, domestically and internationally. This has enabled it to ramp up its impact in recent months to enrol seminal cases against the architects of state capture, with many more arrests to come soon. While we are not where we want to be for various reasons, the narrative pushed by some analysts that the ID has done nothing is simply not substantiated by the facts.

In addition to the ID, in the past year we have seen a major improvement in the finalisation of corruption cases at other levels, in particular:

  • The Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit (SCCU) finalised 380 cases with 344 convictions – a conviction rate of 90.5%.
  • The number of government officials convicted of corruption increased by 38.4% (from 86 to 119) year on year.
  • Our performance in private sector corruption prosecution improved by 39.5% (from 147 to 205 people convicted).

South Africa’s Top 10 corruption cases have been identified and enrolled through close collaboration between the ID, the AFU, SCCU and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI).

They include the following noteworthy cases:

  • The Gauteng High Court granted an order to seize assets worth R1.4 billion belonging to accused implicated in the corruption scandal involving the construction of Eskom’s Kusile power station. The related extradition hearing of former Eskom contractor Michael Lomas is being heard in the United Kingdom.
  • Former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma and former senior members of the Free State Department of Agriculture have been charged with contraventions of the Public Finance Management Act, fraud and money laundering.
  • The Bloemfontein High Court granted an unlimited restraint order to the value of R520 million for assets belonging to Sharma, his company Nulane Investment, and the Gupta family through their company Islandsite.
  • The Free State High Court confirmed a provisional restraint order against Edwin Sodi and his companies, as well as other accused, to the value of almost R300 million.
  • The Free State Housing matter involving the Free State Department of Human Settlements was enrolled in August 2021. The value of purchases made are approximately R500 million.
  • One of the legs of the investigation into the Steinhoff matter has been finalised. A Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) request to one of the foreign authorities was submitted; another MLA, to a different foreign authority, is in the process of being transmitted.
  • Former Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini was convicted of perjury, for lying under oath during a 2017 inquiry into the social grants debacle at SASSA involving millions of rands. She was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment or an option of a R200 000 fine.
  • Dudu Myeni, former SAA board chairperson was charged with defeating the ends of justice, in connection with her testimony at the State Capture Commission where she revealed the identity of a protected witness, despite a strict order from the chairperson of the commission for the identity to be withheld.
Anti-Corruption in numbers

Zondo Commission on state capture

The Zondo Commission has been a gamechanger for South Africa. Yet, the real test lies ahead in terms of how its recommendations will be implemented. The NPA is a key player in this regard and we are fully aware that this response will be defining for both the NPA and South Africa.

South Africans are rightly appalled by the Commission’s revelations of rampant public and private sector corruption, often involving politically exposed persons, which has brought our country to its knees and disproportionately affected the poor and the vulnerable. Patience is running out, and South Africans deserve accountability, justice, and an end to impunity.

The Zondo Commission reports highlight the imperative of effective responses to corruption, especially the prosecution of more high-level corruption and complex cases. In response, the NPA established a joint task force with DPCI to coordinate responses and ensure that seminal cases are prioritised for investigation, prosecution and asset recovery. The task force is delivering on its mandate to drive coordination and coherence in NPA and DPCI responses to Zondo reports. Resources have been pooled, and we are implementing a well-coordinated approach to prosecution-guided investigations.

The tentacles of state capture reached far and wide and the NPA is mindful of the alleged state capture within our own ranks. We are in the process of initiating disciplinary proceedings against those identified.

We are establishing an Office for Ethics and Accountability to detect and address any future unethical behaviour. The draft legislative amendments for the establishment of this office have been submitted to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, and it should be launched in the 2022/23 financial year.



Responding to violent and organised crime

Dealing with corruption is important, but it’s not the NPA’s only priority. Our success rate when it comes to cases involving violence against women over the past year is particularly significant:

  • Our Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) Unit achieved a 94.3% conviction rate in femicide prosecutions, the same as last year.
  • The unit also achieved a 93.8% conviction rate in intimate partner femicide prosecutions.

Overall, across all areas of the NPA’s work, there has also been a marked increase in the number of cases finalised.

We have also worked to ensure sustainability of this progress. Initiatives include:

  • A Gender-Based Violent Crimes training module and strategic plan has been developed.
  • A National Organised Crime strategy has been approved after extensive consultation.
  • A list of priority organised crime cases has been developed.
  • Five additional Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) have been established, bringing the total to 60.
  • Databases have been developed of femicide, child murder and crimes affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed (LGBTQI+) people. The (SOCA) unit is monitoring case progress, finalised prosecutions and the conviction rate.
  • A DNA prioritisation task team has been established and a DNA protocol developed to ensure the acceleration of DNA-related matters on the court roll.

However, it must be borne in mind that prosecutions, notwithstanding the NPA’s best efforts which we will not waver on, will not solve the scourge of SGBV in this country. A whole of government approach, and partnerships with the private sector, is critical.

Our people

We have made significant progress in building a strategically aligned and capacitated NPA, and there is no doubt that our people are our strongest asset.

We have filled a total of 1 717 vacant posts, including the recruitment of more than 1 000 new staff members, and increased our presence outside the major centres.

All Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) posts and several Special Directors of Public Prosecutions (SDPP) posts, have been filled with permanent appointments. In the last year, nine women were appointed into top leadership positions: four DPPs, two SDPPs, the new Investigating Director and two Chief Directors – Strategy and Finance. The NPA is proud to be led by so many experienced, skilled and dynamic women.

The gender profile of the NPA is now 54% female, which represents a 0.8% increase from the previous year. Women constitute 65% of key management positions, far exceeding the prescribed 50% female representation.

So where to from here?

In terms of the future: The obvious answer is to continue building on what we have achieved over the past three years. And to further ramp up our efforts to bring perpetrators of state capture corruption to justice.

Our advocacy has already resulted in the NPA being better resourced, but additional funding will be required over the next three years if we are to maintain our grip on criminal activity. We are grateful to the ongoing support from the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services who keeps exploring bold and innovative ways to secure additional resources for the NPA.

Support from the private sector has been encouraging and is necessary to address the complex challenges we will face over the coming years. The NPA has made good progress in setting up mechanisms to ensure that the NPA’s independence is not compromised in the process.

Many of our prosecutors work in challenging and hostile environments with traumatised victims of crime. Burdened by the daily routines and demands of our work, it is easy to forget that the mission of the NPA is both noble and grand – to ensure justice for society’s most vulnerable, combat crime and impunity, strengthen crime-ridden communities, and reverse years of state capture to restore public confidence. We thank all our prosecutors and staff for their ongoing commitment to this noble mission.

Through re-sharpening our focus and priorities, we are confident that the NPA will deliver on the expectations of all South Africans – and that the final verdict, when it comes to how the NPA has fared in this time of national crisis, will be a positive one. We are on track to become the lawyers for the people of South Africa once again. A trusted NPA that is loved by the people, and rightfully feared by criminals.

The next few months will be a defining time for the NPA, and the rule of law in South Africa.

Advocate Anton du Plessis is Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions

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