Ferraris and frustration: Two faces of South Africa's corruption battle
The Ferrari was seized by South African officials earlier this week
Is South Africa turning a corner in the fight against corruption?
Two powerful images emerged this week that offer utterly contradicting perspectives on the country's long and tortuous struggle against high-level transplants and its attempts to fix a broken justice system.
The first picture showed a bright red Ferrari (an FF F151 if you must know) that was confiscated by officers from the South African Asset Forfeiture Unit, along with a Bentley convertible, two stunningly opulent mansions, and other items worth a total of 1,000 feet Rand ($ 18.2m; £ 14m).
Ever since former President Jacob Zuma fell out of favor two years ago and his successor pledged to wage war on "State Captivity" - the great corruption that flourished so spectacularly during the Zuma era, the public has been waiting with growing impatience, seeing prominent figures arrested and seeing a high-level culture of impunity that is abruptly ending.
The car and villa seizures last Monday were accompanied by seven arrests of businessmen, government officials and provincial bureaucrats on charges of multiple misconduct related to a huge asbestos removal contract. Crimes of insider trading in government procurement.
In other words, by businessmen and government officials who conspire to steal money from taxpayers by inflating, manipulating, or otherwise corrupting government contracts.
It was a rare and dramatic moment. Since then, there have been more arrests and more breakthroughs.
On Wednesday, a revitalized National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it had recently indicted eight people on one of the most outrageous corruption scandals in modern South Africa that looted and collapsed rural VBS savings bank official (the "background mechanic") , according to one expert), who is now expected to spill the beans on his co-defendant and others.
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Add to this the steady stream of high-level corruption revelations coming from the Zondo Commission (a judge-led investigation into "state detention" that is now working closely with prosecutors to provide the basis for criminal charges) and You What the feeling many South Africans hope is that the corners are being turned, that new brooms are working hard, dominoes are falling, and that the country's long-awaited clean-up campaign is gaining momentum.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has even committed itself - at least in principle - to the creation of a powerful new constitutional anti-corruption body that would be free from the political pressures that a previous version of it saw as a force - the Scorpions - disbanded appeared with a simple majority in parliament over a decade ago when it began threatening powerful interests.
These developments in South Africa seem to be rocking some very powerful figures, including ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule, who this week claimed without evidence he was on the verge of being arrested in a politically motivated Hollywood-style robbery over several longstanding allegations - which he denies - of corruption.
"Are we winning this fight? At this point I can say that we are not winning. The workload is astronomical to say the least" ", Source: Shamila Batohi of NPA in June 2020, Source description:, Image: Shamila Batoh
"The wheels of justice are turning," the new head of the NPA, Shamila Batohi, told parliament this week.
"In the past, these cases may never have seen the inside of a courtroom."
Good news then.
But there is another picture from the past few days that some here believe better reflects the state of law enforcement in this country and the extent of the task that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his allies still face.
A video from a courthouse in the small provincial town of Senekal showed a crowd of angry farmers protesting in the street, storming the building and setting fire to a police vehicle. That was on Tuesday.
Although the farmers' anger was tied to a very specific local event, with possible racial overtones - the gruesome murder of a 22-year-old white man with his body caught on a pole - the incident was a reminder of the profound frustration of many communities across the world South Africa feel that lawlessness and violent crime remain widespread and that vigilance reflects a deep lack of trust in the police, prosecutors and courts.
Years of underfunding and staff shortages at the NPA, as well as signs of political interference, have led to a widespread loss of confidence in the entire justice system.
"Are we winning this fight? At this point, I can say that we are not winning. The workload is astronomical, to say the least," NPA Ms. Batohi admitted earlier this year, citing a chronic shortage of qualified personnel and other resources .
Another of the "new brooms" brought to the NPA to repair the damage of the Zuma era made it even clearer.
"Not just broken, it's lazy in places and there are some saboteurs who are undoing the work we're trying to do," said Hermine Cronje, head of the NPA's investigation department.
On Wednesday there was a nationwide strike to protest against corruption and unemployment, among other things
The warning of "saboteurs" in the judicial system is a reminder that the fight to repair the South African criminal justice system is to a large extent a political one.
"Those who have conquered the state laugh at the NPA's inability to do anything with one arm behind their back and one blindfolded eye," said Paul Hoffman of the anti-corruption group Accountability Now.
Much now depends on the ANC deciding that high-ranking officials charged with corruption must immediately resign from all official positions.
In that case, President Ramaphosa's position within his own party will be strengthened and his ability to advance his clean-up will gain momentum.
But if, as it seems more likely, the issue is stuck in party politics, there is every chance that Mr Ramaphosa's opponents can follow the example of Mr Zuma - who has successfully avoided going to court on multiple corruption charges, which he denies . for more than a decade.
Behind this hides the bigger question of whether successful crackdown on corruption - welcome as it may be - will have a significant impact on South Africa's increasingly poor economic prospects, with investors, analysts and diplomats increasingly warning of an impending debt crisis and even the possibility of one "Failed State" below.
"This is a precarious situation. South Africa is on the brink of collapse. The economy needs to be restructured, but there is no investment. The ANC has no idea what is coming," warned businessman and political commentator Moeletsi Mbeki, arguing that the fight against Corruption was less of a priority than the need to address what he called "legal corruption", which means entrenched economic interests that oppose fundamental reform.
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