My first thought when the news broke was: “Wow, could this be some sort of poetic justice?”
On Thursday morning legal guru Vusi Pikoli told lawyers and business leaders in Port Elizabeth that no nation could ever thrive without clean governance and a leadership committed to serving the people.
As he delivered his speech at the Boardwalk Hotel, less than 10km away South Africa’s elite crime busters, the Hawks, were raiding the offices of Nelson Mandela Bay stadium operators Access Management.
They went through stacks of files, hoping to find evidence to help them piece together what is arguably the biggest corruption case to hit our shores since Pikoli – then a commissioned investigator – set it in motion more almost four years ago. The well documented squandering of hundreds of millions of rand meant to develop an efficient bus system remains a disastrous legacy of the ANC’s rule in the metro.
Therefore, the raid last week was, to me, a welcome sign that this matter could be receiving the attention that it deserves from law enforcement.
For a moment I was hopeful that finally those who shamelessly looted public money through fake music concerts and stupid T-shirts were going to be held responsible for robbing commuters of their right to safe and reliable public transport.
But then it dawned on me: it’s the Hawks.
The people I was hoping would break this case wide open, be relentless crusaders in pursuit of the truth, finally to nail this bunch of thieves, were the Hawks – Major-General Berning Ntlemeza’s Hawks. Do not get me wrong. I believe that there are many men and women within that unit who work hard and do the best they can to go after criminals.
And at times they win. However, I also believe that as an entity, the Hawks have lost credibility in the eyes of many South Africans. Not least of all because of the man who leads them.
Ntlemeza is a biased liar, found by a court also to lack integrity and honour. This alone means he has no business leading an entity which should by all accounts be above reproach.
It therefore should come as no surprise that he continues to pursue a highly questionable case against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan which has been repeatedly shown to have no legal basis. Whether Gordhan acted unlawfully at all during his term at SARS, I do not know.
What is evident is that, at best, the allegations by the Hawks against Gordhan are an astonishing display of incompetence. Quite worrying for a unit mandated to go after the most cunning minds of the criminal underworld.
At worst, their case is indicative of a unit that has been turned into a political hit squad, most useful to those who currently hold the balance of power in the war unfolding before us.
You are probably wondering what the Gordhan case has to do with the corruption probe taking place in Mandela Bay. Everything. You see, the devil here lies not in the granular detail of each case in the hands of the Hawks. It is our diminishing faith in the unit itself that is of concern.
It is about whether or not we can trust the Hawks to be fair and to pursue cases accordingly without fear or favour. Whether their decisions pass the constitutional muster and whether or not we can trust them to do their work with a strong conviction for nothing else but to uphold the rule of law.
Sadly, despite certain pockets of excellence within the Hawks, it is difficult to ignore the very glaring erosion of integrity at its higher echelons of power. And, if like me, you believe that a fish rots from the head, then you are likely to be as unnerved by a potentially dangerous organisational culture susceptible to the abuse of power.
If the head of the Hawks can make decisions to please political masters undermining the rule of law, why can’t his subordinates? Like most people in this city, I am eager to see the investigation into the bus system completed and those implicated prosecuted.
As a team of journalists on this newspaper we have spent endless hours probing, trying to uncover the mess that unfolded over the years. And even so, I do not think the multitude of stories we have published on the matter tell the true extent of the damage done to this city.
While the investigation appears to be taking shape, it is perhaps fair to wonder if those handling it would honour their mandate regardless of which political feathers they ruffle. Can we trust them not to cave at the first sign of political resistance?
The reality is that for as long as Ntlemeza is at the helm of the Hawks, such questions will continue to hang over the unit like a dark cloud, undermining the credibility of its efforts to fight crime.
And ultimately, for allowing the likes of Ntlemeza to run public institutions, such is the damage inflicted on this nation by the man we call President.