Pieter du Toit: A disinformation campaign against Shamila Batohi was always going to come
A screenshot "showing" that NPA head, advocate Shamila Batohi, allegedly received R1.6m from President Cyril Ramaphosa's CR17 campaign is obviously bogus. It is, however, a shot across the bow of Batohi and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) from those who are feeling the heat. And disinformation will be used to muddy the waters, writes Pieter du Toit.
On Tuesday morning, National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi was asked in a SABC television interview whether she received R1.6m from the CR17 campaign.
She looked at the interviewer – the excellent Sakina Kamwendo – and responded that she didn't think such an allegation needed to be dignified with an answer. Kamwendo explained that given her high office, she believes it to be in the national interest that the NDPP responds.
Batohi hasn't made many public appearances and she hasn't granted many interviews since she took office in February, but given South Africans' exposure to her, she seems unflappable. Incredulously, she shot down the question and denied that she received money from the CR17 campaign.
However, the NDPP, under public pressure to deliver the first state capture scalp, seemed surprised at the claim.
To backtrack a bit, on Monday, Pauli van Wyk of Daily Maverick published a story which demonstrated palpably clear links between money flows from the ruined VBS Mutual Bank and EFF leader Julius Malema's garish lifestyle. A couple of hours later, a screenshot of names and amounts allegedly paid by the CR17 campaign to a number of high-profile individuals started circulating on social media, with the necessary outrage accompanying the retweets and reposts.
Batohi's name obviously jumped out.
The problem is that the "evidence" distributed is so clearly fabricated and that whoever manufactured it did an even worse job than the infamous "intelligence dossier" former president Jacob Zuma used as a pretext to get rid of Pravin Gordhan at the finance ministry.
Zuma used a long WhatsApp message, which included suitably bad grammar and spelling, to attack Gordhan. Batohi's enemies, however, are starting to target her based on a screenshot of a typed Microsoft Word document.
Attacks on Batohi were always going to come. It was only a matter of time. And the closer she and the NPA, including advocate Hermione Cronje's Investigative Directorate, comes to charging the big fish, the more fire will be directed at her.
The purpose of this admittedly weak disinformation effort is to undermine her credibility and tie her to Ramaphosa, who really is in political strife because of some ill-advised money donations.
If enough doubt can be sowed in the public's mind about Batohi's independence and judgement, it will be much easier to attack decisions to prosecute politically explosive cases.
The pattern of manufactured crises and subsequent investigations based on spurious grounds was of course perfected in the Zuma era, with the SA Revenue Service investigations unit being the prime example and most high-profile victim. But in the post-Zuma era, the efficacy of these tactics is diminished given institutional and leadership changes.
There's no doubt, however, that groundwork is being laid to question prosecutorial decisions once they are made. If a disinformation campaign can grow legs, it can affect perceptions of her independence in the public eye, which is precisely what her enemies want. They want to create enough doubt in her so that she is afraid of doing what needs to be done.
Batohi will need to run a tight ship. She doesn't want to be accused of playing politics, of manipulating the timing of charges or running foul of process and procedure. Because those who will be charged – the individuals who aided and abetted capture and corruption, and some of the original perpetrators of tenderpreneurship – will fight back with everything in their arsenal.
Any misstep, like last week, when the NPA first confirmed that a decision to charge Malema had been taken and later changed its story, will be seized by her enemies, of which there are many.
The document "showing" that Batohi was given R1.6m by the Ramaphosa campaign is obviously bogus. But it's a shot across the bow of Batohi and the NPA. It's a message: Come any closer, and things could get worse.
Could it be related to VBS? It is understood that the civil matters are progressing well and that recoveries are happening apace. The criminal matters are all that are outstanding.
Batohi's challenge is to prosecute without fear, regardless of the noise.
The NPA needs to start hitting back at capture and corruption.