Dumisane Lubisi: Justice is all about yesterday's news
This week, I felt I’d grown forgetful on matters involving the public purse. This is because I could not remember the details regarding the fraud and corruption charges that former Northern Cape ANC boss John Block had been convicted for. I then asked myself what the relevance of the case is now, seeing that these matters took place a while ago.
Then again, I realised, it is indicative of the nature of the pace at which the country is moving. We move forward too fast and forget the past. It is also indicative of the snail’s pace at which the criminal justice system grinds when the rich and powerful are involved.
So, like many people, I asked “wenzeni uJohn Block” that he is back in the news. We had forgotten about the multimillion-rand lease scandal he facilitated that rocked the Northern Cape government.
The story goes like this. Between 2005 and 2009, Block hatched a scheme that would see him benefit financially from government leases. In this elaborate scheme, Block linked up with businessman Christo Scholtz, the chief executive of property company Trifecta Holdings, regarding space that government needed to rent across the province. These leases would come at massively inflated prices to benefit Trifecta and Block himself.
These details were kept under wraps and only ventilated when the matter was finally brought to court in a marathon trial in 2013.
By October 2015, the Northern Cape High Court had found Block and Scholtz guilty regarding the lease scandal. It would take more than 14 months later before a jail sentence of 15 years was handed down in December 2016.
Since the start of the trial, Block and Scholtz have been out on bail. Their appeal to the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein last week failed, bringing Block’s name back into the public domain. He and Scholtz were to start their jail time this week, but they opted to petition the Constitutional Court to overturn their conviction and sentence. For their freedom, the pair paid R50 000 each, over and above the R150 000 bail money they forked out when they were first charged.
The Constitutional Court is unlikely to hear the matter this year – making it three years of freedom after the duo’s conviction.
These events and the continued delay in their incarceration confirm public perceptions that our justice system differentiates between those who are poor and the rich and powerful. The latter can use their financial muscle to stay out of jail for the longest time – so long that even when they are convicted the public has forgotten the details of the crime committed.
But for poor people, the justice system moves swiftly.
Block and Scholtz’s crimes happened between 2005 and 2009. The pair were convicted in 2015, and a 15-year sentence was handed down a year later. To determine the exact damage rendered by the duo’s misdeeds on the provincial government’s fiscus is almost impossible as those leases are no longer newsworthy a decade or so later.
We have moved to other matters of the court – the state capture and SA Revenue Service inquiries. It will be some time before we get a conviction on state capture crimes. By then, the country will have moved on to another financial scandal and the buzz words “state capture” will be long forgotten.
Similarly, alongside the R500 000 bribe that Schabir Shaik organised for former president Jacob Zuma from the French arms company, Thales, do you remember the R10 that he paid to have Zuma’s car washed and vacuumed?
Well, it will all come back when Zuma finally – if ever – goes on trial for those charges. And Zuma will probably not recall those minute details of the car wash. He, like all of us, will have moved on to other big news events of the day.
Follow me on Twitter @DumisaneLubisi