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Organised crime flourished under Jacob Zuma’s presidency as South Africa’s criminal justice agencies were manipulated for political and personal gain.

This is one of many findings in a joint submission by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and Corruption Watch to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture (Zondo Commission).

Interference in the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority, as well as the South African Police Service (SAPS) and its crime intelligence division, helped to entrench state capture, ensuring impunity for Zuma, his political and business allies and their patronage networks.

During the Zuma era there was generalised impunity for those close to his faction, the submission concludes. But in the end it was the inability to hide the scale of looting, and the sheer audacity of attempts to capture every key institution of the state, particularly the Treasury and related institutions like SARS, that led to the demise of the Zuma regime.

The submission was handed to the Zondo Commission in April and made public today (Wednesday 19 June). It says crime intelligence was used during the Zuma era to promote the power of the ANC’s dominant faction by manipulating party processes and elections, ensuring Zuma and his allies were not held accountable for illegal activity.

Manipulation of the criminal justice system was also evident under former president Thabo Mbeki, but was pursued more consistently and aggressively under Zuma, at the expense of South Africans’ safety and economic wellbeing.

Corruption was allowed to proliferate as the capacity to investigate complex commercial crimes was slashed, and the looting of state resources was disregarded in order to protect powerful political factions, the ISS and Corruption Watch said.

Mismanagement of the criminal justice agencies led to declines in their performance as they became a hostile environment for people committed to the rule of law. Interference in the police, and the appointment of police leadership without appropriate skills, led to a surge in armed robberies.  

Car hijacking, cash-in-transit heists, and robberies at homes and businesses are often linked to organised crime groups. Robust crime intelligence is known to reduce organised crime, but there was a surge in these crime categories during the Zuma era. This is also one of the likely reasons for a spike in South Africa’s murder rate.

The ISS and Corruption Watch made a number of recommendations to the Zondo Commission, including competency and integrity assessments for senior managers in the SAPS, Hawks and crime intelligence. An audit should identify people who were irregularly appointed or promoted, or where they lack the required competence, experience and integrity. 

The anti-corruption investigation and prosecution capacities of criminal justice agencies should be strengthened, and a review should be conducted of the SAPS crime intelligence division to enhance its performance, transparency and accountability. Particular attention should be given to the crime intelligence secret service account, which appears to have been routinely abused.  

The ISS and Corruption Watch recommended new legislation to ensure greater transparency around the relationship between the executive and the senior leadership of criminal justice agencies, including the requirement that all instructions be confirmed in writing and made available for public scrutiny. New mechanisms are required to ensure candidates for senior criminal justice positions are suitably qualified.

Government should provide an annual consolidated report on all investigations and prosecutions of corruption by officials in criminal justice agencies, and associated disciplinary measures.

The submission said South Africa’s political culture has major risk factors for the manipulation of criminal justice agencies. Jacob Zuma’s ascendency showed that people facing serious and well-founded allegations of wrongdoing can be elected to positions of power, where they can subvert the law in their favour.

Political parties should therefore change their codes of conduct to ensure candidates facing questions about their integrity are regarded as unsuitable for political office until they can formally clear their names. They should no longer apply the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach.

Notes to editors

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