OPINION: Nathi Mthethwa's moment of reckoning has arrived

Nathi Mthethwa, who benefitted handsomely from Zuma's "nine wasted years", may not welcome the prospect of being publicly implicated in corruption. But a defamation lawsuit aginst Naidoo and other potential witnesses is patently absurd, writes Tebogo Khaas.

Early last Wednesday evening, former South African Police Service's crime intelligence officer Colonel Dhanajaya Naidoo concluded his testimony at the state capture commission, where he had taken up semi-permanent residence via audio link from an undisclosed location. 

Naidoo's detailed and clear testimony is one of the great artefacts to enter Deputy Chief Justice Zondo's massive archive of political malfeasance, whilst inviting a fantastical defamation lawsuit from a powerful politician.

Clearly his explosive revelations have set off battles involving those he has implicated and their troubled consciences.  

Let me explain. 

Think for a moment about Naidoo's family who have spent what must be a tumultuous eight years living with him under witness protection, after Naidoo broke ranks with his criminal past and began implicating a litany of former colleagues in criminal wrongdoing. 

Over his four-day long testimony, Naidoo distilled endemic corruption and abuse of the information classification system within the police's crime intelligence division with bracing clarity, notwithstanding the paucity of key documentary evidence – of which the declassification is an embarrassing subject of ongoing litigation between two law enforcement agencies.

READ: 'I am sorry for my actions' - tearful Crime Intelligence whistleblower tells Zondo commission

The lucidity, detail and veracity of Naidoo's testimony may help the inquiry uncover what is arguably the biggest threat to our national security and an impediment to economic prosperity: corruption in law enforcement. 

Naidoo provided a revelatory narrative about the underlying facts of the criminal plunder of the police secret services account, testimony that complemented that which was provided earlier by two of his former colleagues, including investigative reporting previously published by various media outlets.

Scandal and malfeasance involving politicians often become politically contested. A timeworn tactic by officials accused of wrongdoing is to befuddle the public or threaten lawsuits, often at public expense.

The allegations we can discern so far, however, retain a certain straightforwardness and credibility, thanks to the lack of subtlety by those implicated. 

An acute deficiency of moral scruples

Journalist Ranjeni "Jeni from the blog" Munusamy's penchant for finer wheels and run flat tyres has enmeshed her in explosive allegations of impropriety in the senior echelons of law enforcement. Naidoo outed her as one of the seasoned journalists allegedly captured to spread falsehoods at the behest of her corrupt police friends. 

Munusamy denies the allegations and has, rightly so, approached the commission to counter these.

Cynics dismiss Munusamy's protestations as preposterous and exceptionally unbelievable, even in light of her scandalous journalistic record to date.

Lest we forget, discredited former president Jacob Zuma's path to Mahlamba Ndlopfu was paved with subterfuge, blackmail, lies and spin. 

Whereas then senior crime intelligence officers used the secret services account for bribery and blackmail, Munusamy used the power of her inkhorn to spin yarns of well-orchestrated conspiracies targeting those whose actions threatened Zuma's presidential ambitions. 

Munusamy's falsehoods had real life consequences. She sullied careers and livelihoods of many dedicated, upright and esteemed civil servants, and is complicit in helping usher South Africa's "nine wasted years". 

It is fascinating how Munusamy's employers, the Sunday Times, and the South African National Editors' Forum wasted no time in falsely claiming that since she wasn't formally employed by a media house at the time of her alleged indiscretions, she couldn't be considered a journalist at the time.

What a load of bullshit!

Of course as a freelance journalist, Munusamy concocted a false narrative in which she accused then national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka of having been an apartheid spy. 

At the time, Ngcuka still posed a threat of having Zuma, whom Munusamy had defended publicly, prosecuted and sent to jail for corruption alongside his then financial advisor, Schabir Shaik. 

A judicial commission of inquiry subsequently exposed Munusamy's lies and acute deficiency of moral scruples.

During his tenure as national police commissioner, police minister Bheki Cele curiously didn't report to the police his infamous loss of a substantial amount of cash during a domestic flight. Notably, Cele is amongst those venal officials who allegedly refused to declassify important documents needed for criminal investigations of top police officials. 

Former crime intelligence head General Richard Mdluli and former chief financial officer General Solomon Lazarus thought that they had devised a perfect scheme to loot the secret service account in order to sustain their ostentatious lifestyles and insatiable greed.

Dispensing cash, expensive cars, air tickets, international shopping jaunts, splurging on high-end electronic and computer devices, nepotism and blackmail were the hallmarks of their tenure in the crime intelligence unit. Mdluli and Lazarus subverted crime intelligence into a formidable criminal enterprise. 

Mthethwa on the hook

Arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa was enmeshed in what appears to be blackmail attempts by the duo during his tenure as police minister. It seems that they may have deliberately used a legitimate provision to improve security at the unsuspecting minister's home for potential future blackmail of Mthethwa. 

Naidoo, and two other earlier witnesses, revealed how Mthethwa accepted the benefit of a perimeter brick wall fence at his personal homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal, and delivery of a high-end Mercedes Benz SUV both allegedly paid for with funds from the secret services account without any qualms.

The trio further revealed the fact that no security assessment was undertaken before construction commenced; the cost of constructing the said wall exceeded allowable budget limits; and the unlawful payment thereof from the secret service account. 

READ | Zondo commission: Mthethwa plans to sue for defamation after old claims resurface

Fortuitously, a tjatjarag investigative media may have saved Mthethwa from being irrevocably entangled in the law enforcement rot.

National Treasury appropriates funds to the secret services account to prop up the SAPS's crime intelligence division capabilities to help police combat, particularly organised, crime. 

Mthethwa, who benefitted handsomely from Zuma's "nine wasted years", may not welcome the prospect of being publicly implicated in alleged corruption and the attendant consequences. But invoking the threat of a multi-million defamation lawsuit to silence Naidoo and other potential witnesses is patently absurd. 

Media reports at the time stated that the minister denied that "any sources of public funds" were used for the renovations. However, the auditor general's report confirmed that "the wall around the minister's private property was built using secret service funds from SAPS: Crime Intelligence".

Mthethwa shouldn't hide behind a compromised auditor general's audit report which he claims exonerated him. We already know how the auditor general was hoodwinked into believing crime intelligence bought an Audi S4 instead of a more luxurious Audi Q7. Related testimonies by other investigators suggest that the integrity of the auditor general's investigations of Mthethwa may have also been hamstrung by the prevalent abuse of the information classification system and deceit.  

With that in mind, it would be disingenuous for Mthethwa to rely on a potentially flawed "exculpation". 

In fact, in his testimony Naidoo never claimed that the minister knew the source of the funds used to build a massive wall around his mansion nestled amongst abject poverty in rural KZN, nor did he claim that the minister was home when the luxurious German SUV was delivered. 

Expect mounting lawfare by those implicated

Of course Mthethwa is within his rights to pursue his rage-inflected lawfare against an important whistleblower. However, it seems that Mthethwa's ever-bloated ego risks emptying his deep pockets over what appears to be vexatious litigation. At best, his will be a Pyrrhic victory. 

Mthethwa stands to attain moral vindication and public endearment by providing testimony to the Zondo commission – something President Cyril Ramaphosa has assiduously implored his ministers to do.

Litigating against whistleblowers weakens Ramaphosa's drive for transparency, and doesn't accord with the nation's desire for the truth, the pursuit of justice, and amelioration of the "nine wasted years". 

Unimpeachable whistleblower testimonies will help uncover the truth, and defend our democracy against the torrent of spin and lies. Threats of physical harm and lawfare by those implicated in wrongdoing, and their allies, will surely continue to mount. 

Of course anyone who wilfully propagates falsehoods must be held to account. However Naidoo and others who implicated Mthethwa don't seem to fit that bill. 

Think again for a moment about the effects of Naidoo's family's continued victimisation, including possible reluctance to testify by potential witnesses, as a result of Mthethwa's actions.  

It isn't too late for Mthethwa to choose to be on the right side of history and abandon his ill-advised lawsuit. He should instead assist the commission with any information at his disposal. Otherwise, like Munusamy and Cele, he risks confirming suspicions of his running with the foxes while hunting with the hounds. 

Obfuscations and threats of lawfare only distract the non-obsessives from the heart of the matter. 

Mthethwa's moment of reckoning has arrived.

- Khaas is a businessman, founder and convenor of Public Interest SA, a public benefit organisation that protects and advances constitutionalism. 

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