11 Apr 2011
THE South African police, intelligence services and a host of politicians are certainly caught up in a whirlpool of scandals and intrigue. How the country and anyone stuck in the current quagmire gets out of this slimy bog is anyone's guess. But get out we must, if only to save ourselves from becoming the laughing stock of the world. More seriously, author Misha Glenny in his book McMafia, about the globalisation of organised crime, notes that countries in disarray become havens for underworld networks.
At present we have a crime intelligence boss, Richard Mdluli, arrested and charged for a murder committed more than 10 years ago. He in turn claims to have a secret dossier containing corruption allegations against national Police Commissioner Bheki Cele. There is more — the Sunday Independent reports that Mdluli was arrested because of information he has on a plot to overthrow President Jacob Zuma. The plotters allegedly include Cele, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, who the report says is aiming to become the next president, and our own Premier, Zweli Mkhize.
All of this has a faintly familiar ring of plots and counter-plots. Remember the build-up to the ANC's national conference in Polokwane and the last bruising succession battle between former president Thabo Mbeki and Zuma? There were intelligence men trailing ANC cadres and e-mails being fabricated. The result was that when he became president, Zuma made a host of changes putting his "own people" in leadership positions both within the police and the intelligence agencies. However, a day in the life of politics is short and anything can happen.
While the intrigues continue, three alleged members of a drug syndicate involving a R250 million haul were acquitted of all charges in the Germiston Magistrate's Court last week because the state failed to prove its case. Presiding magistrate Deon Snyman was scathing that the main players in this international drug syndicate were let off the hook through plea bargain agreements. One of the accused, Glen Agliotti, cut a deal to testify in former police commissioner Jackie Selebi's corruption trial. Also last week, Czech fraud accused Radovan Krecjir was granted bail. One of the allegations against him is that he flew three Serbian assassins into South Africa to kill some people on a hit list. Krecjir arrived in South Africa in 2007 while a wanted man in his home country.
Don't forget that we have Sheryl Cwele, the wife, (okay, estranged wife) of the head of state security, Siyabonga Cwele, awaiting the outcome of her drug trafficking trial. If that were not enough, yesterday's Sunday Times reported that Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka travelled first class to Switzerland to visit a girlfriend convicted on a drug-related matter.
This was not how it was supposed to be. As South Africans we were supposed to be different. The peacefully negotiated settlement of our freedom struggle gave us the moral high ground. We had elder statesmen like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu who showed amazing restraint and made major concessions without feeling that it took anything away from them. The first democratic government honoured apartheid's huge debt and paid every cent of the money, even though it held back its own development goals. It spoke about forgiveness, reconciliation and non-racialism and meant it. How did it all go so wrong and what can we do to save ourselves?
There is sufficient evidence, according to Glenny, from countries in transition such as Russia and the Serbian countries that criminals wait in the wings to take advantage of any gaps they can find. These gaps include the weakness of policing institutions; a faltering criminal justice system, which becomes more open to corruption; distracting, all-consuming power struggles; and the increasing vulnerability of politicians caught up in battles for power and positions.
We have by no means escaped the net. Mark Shaw of the Institute of Security Studies noted that a World Economic Forum report cited South Africa as having an organised crime problem second only to Columbia and Russia. Shaw disputes this assertion, saying that organised crime remains relatively fragmented. However, he does admit that the extent of organised crime in South Africa remains difficult to gauge accurately.
There seems no doubt that drug trafficking has indeed taken root given the prominent cases in the media. Shaw says that according to police records there are about 192 syndicates operating in South Africa. The majority specialise in drug trafficking (96 syndicates), vehicle-related crime (83 syndicates), commercial crime (60) or in any combination of these crimes. At least 32 of these known syndicates operate internationally and the majority of the others operate in sub-Saharan Africa.
By all accounts these numbers sound manageable. All we need now is for our police and intelligence services to be extricated from this negative nexus of intrigue and power struggles.
To do this we need leadership, the kind provided by Oliver Tambo, Mandela and Sisulu. Hello! Is there anyone out there?