Coalition of the righteous
While the exact author of this gem of a quote is lost in the mists of time, it crisply captures the gist of this week’s column.
While South Africa was last week consumed by the deferment of the State of the Nation address and uncertainty surrounding the fate of President Zuma, a small group of concerned people - without much fanfare or ceremony - got down to doing something most remarkable.
They rallied together to “join the dots” in the country’s story of capture and plunder by organising public hearings with the explicit aim of hearing evidence related to corruption and economic crimes over the last 40 years.
The People’s Tribunal on Economic Crime, which sat from February 3 to 7 at Constitution Hill in Joburg, was the first in the world to specifically address crimes of corruption and theft, and was in response to the unwillingness of the government to ensure justice for known crimes.
A coalition of civil society organisations, including Open Secrets, Corruption Watch, the Public Affairs Research Institute, the Right2Know Campaign and the Foundation for Human Rights, created the People’s Tribunal.
While the tribunal does not have formal juristic power and thus cannot punish anybody accused of wrongdoing, its power lies in its ability to generate an evidence-based public record of these crimes which citizens can use to demand accountability.
So significant was this civil-society initiative for the health of our constitutional democracy that on the last day’s sitting of the first session of the People’s Tribunal, Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the SA Council of Churches, thanked witnesses who chose “the peace and joy of unburdening themselves” in the full glare of the South African public.
“South Africa is punch-drunk,” he said.
“It is reeling at the dizzy pace of revelations of corruption and the systemic architecture of looting and theft that is tightly glued to the private interests of powerful men in business and politics who are prepared to physically kill - and figuratively kill - people and destroy institutions for what is in it for them.
“The country has become quite alive to the pillaging facilitated by the abuse of the baton of authority, lubricated by the flow of unearned wealth and benefits, at the expense of the impoverished citizenry and against the perennial rivers of tears over the deaths of the incorruptible who dare to stand up against corruption.”
Mpumlwana said the People’s Tribunal was writing a new page in the history of our democracy, a page of active democratic participation, of inquisitive democratic participation, of dutiful responsibility in democratic participation.
The People’s Tribunal on Economic Crime in South Africa was inspired by a powerful history of People’s Tribunals around the world.
These have been used by civil society to address human rights violations where the state has failed to demand accountability.
They include investigations into the Vietnam War, abuses in Palestine and genocide in Indonesia.
While the inaugural People’s Tribunal looked at economic crime, more especially the arms deal which corrupted politicians, future sittings will probe mismanagement, maladministration and misconduct within other spheres of government such as education, health and welfare as well as miscarriage in the corporate sector.
It is about time the voice of the common man is heard. Small efforts by everyone will yield great results.
It’s time each one of us starts to fight corruption. Holding powerful interests to account is essential to democracy and the preservation of human rights.
We do not talk enough about corporate collusion to raise prices. In the past 15 years, the prices of basic consumer goods have trebled, and even quadrupled.
In 2003, 750g of Frisco coffee cost R20. Today it costs R80. Rama margarine (500g) has gone up from R7 to R25.
A kilogram of Tastic rice has increased from R7 to R22.
Do we protest about the powerful companies that shift profits offshore and cry poverty when it comes to raising wages?
We do not pay enough attention to the private sector’s role in corrupting public officials.
How is it possible that a small company battling for survival with a single bakkie can metamorphose into a multimillion-rand empire within 20 years and recurrently clinch major government contracts? Surely party-funding and kickbacks must play a role.
Now where are all those honest workers who are paid a pittance but are only too aware of their bosses’ corrupt ways?
Why don’t they blow the whistle on crime?
The People’s Tribunal makes provision for members of the public to submit evidence.
Included on the panel of adjudicators are former justice of the Constitutional Court Zak Yacoob, former UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay and leading human rights lawyer and executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in SA, Yasmin Sooka.
Ajay Sooklal, the lawyer who helped produce evidence implicating Zuma in the 1999 arms deal, gave testimony last week on alleged bribes used to secure the arms deal and, in particular, to protect its instigators from facing legal repercussions.
The allegations related broadly to the involvement of French arms manufacturer Thales in the arms deal, and its links to then deputy president Jacob Zuma.
He said Shamim “Chippy” Shaik, the SANDF chief of acquisitions at the time, was allegedly paid $1 million by Thales.
Sooklal restated the contents of an encrypted fax which spoke of Zuma being offered a R500 000 per annum bribe by Thales to protect the company in the arms deal probe.
He told the People’s Tribunal how then president of France Jacques Chirac asked then president Thabo Mbeki, to “bring forces to bear” to stop the NPA investigating Thales’ role in the arms deal.
He recounted that former financial adviser to Zuma, Schabir Shaik, received money from Thales via a Swiss bank account, some of which was transferred to Mac Maharaj and his wife Zarina, who then transferred these funds to a bank account in the Isle of Man.
He also said Thales allegedly made a R1million “donation” to the ANC ahead of the 2006 elections.
I asked Sooklal, who worked as a fixer for Thales and was once tight with Zuma, what made him approach the People’s Tribunal and present evidence against Thales.
He said he had been “astounded” by the level of corruption in South Africa since the arms deal, which was why he approached the tribunal.
He said that on September 29, 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal, in a damning judgment, enquired of the National Prosecuting Authority why, since 2007, the State did not prosecute Thales Group, Schabir Shaik, Mac Maharaj and Zarina Maharaj for bribery, corruption and money-laundering.
On October 13, 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal, in yet a further critical judgment, stated that charges of corruption, bribery, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering against Zuma and two Thales companies had been unlawfully withdrawn in April 2009.
“Despite these two Supreme Court of Appeal judgments, the National Prosecuting Authority has adopted a supine approach by not prosecuting the parties.
“I am a God-fearing person. I have a conscience. Hence my decision to appear before the People’s Tribunal.
“Only the brave and patriotic will undertake such as appearance,” said Sooklal, adding: “The truth shall set you free.”
Let’s hope more people will come forward to tell the truth at the next sitting of the People’s Tribunal.
Let your sense of the rightness of things overcome the fear of not speaking.
South Africa needs honest people with integrity to be bold and speak truth to power so that those who are corrupt face the consequences.
It’s what we all need to do in order to fight the evil that we all talk about.
* Yogin Devan is a media consultant and social commentator. Share your comments with him at: [email protected]