OPINION | Shades of Selebi – Mapisa-Nqakula case straight out of the Selebi playbook writes Mandy Wiener

NPA will have to battle their way through another Stalingrad style legal defence before they get close to a guilty verdict.

The Investigating Directorate’s head Advocate Andrea Johnson must be feeling a serious sense of deja Vu at the moment. 

The Speaker of Parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is facing criminal charges for allegedly receiving cash and gifts in exchange for her influence on defence tenders and her lawyers have brought an urgent application to prevent her arrest. 

This is straight out of the Selebi playbook and it’s a case that has all the hallmarks of the one against the former National Police Commissioner. 

Andrea Johnson was part of the prosecuting team that successfully convicted Selebi. 

Another irony is the fact that Nosiviwe’s husband Charles Nqakula was the Minister of Police at the time when Selebi committed the crimes and was arrested. 

One would think that the Nqakula’s would have learnt some lessons from that saga involving their old comrade. 

Let’s look at the parallels. 

The Gauteng High Court and Judge Meyer Joffe heard evidence about envelopes stuffed with cash being slid across boardroom tables to the country’s top cop. The circumstantial evidence includes chequebook counterfoils that read “Cash Cop” or “JS” or “Chief”. 

There was testimony from Glenn Agliotti about shopping sprees in Sandton that included Gucci handbags, Aigner jackets, Hugo Boss knitwear, Fubu clothing for Selebi’s kids and even black leather size 7 soft leather shoes as a gift for former President Thabo Mbeki. 

As the Scorpions were on the brink of arresting Selebi in early 2008, he too brought an urgent court application to force the NPA’s hand. His lawyers lost on urgency and Selebi had to appear in court. 

The case against Mapisa-Nqakula, according to whistleblower statements and court documents, sounds remarkably similar in many ways.

Prosecutors are arguing that the Speaker received 11 payments from a defence contractor while she was the Minister of Defence and that she got R2.5 million in cash in gift bags. Businesswoman Nombasa Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu claims these were handed over at various venues including the Nqakula’s home in Bruma and at an air show. The two allegedly developed various code words for the money, calling it “wigs”, “impepho” (incense), “imithi” (medicine) and “snuff”. Mapisa-Nqakula has denied the allegations. A wig was recovered during a search and seizure raid at her residence. 

Like Selebi, she is also claiming that the NPA is out to humiliate her and the case is all about politics and not bribery and corruption. 
What is starkly different between the two cases however is that this time around there appears to not be of the same level of political interference there was in the Selebi case. President Mbeki was accused of protecting his old friend, the top cop, from being arrested. 

When the Scorpions were on the brink of arresting Selebi, then National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli was suspended by Mbeki, ostensibly to prevent Selebi from being taken to court. 

Pikoli argued that he was sidelined to scupper the case against Selebi and the matter was fully ventilated at the Ginwala Inquiry into Pikoli’s fitness to hold office. Mbeki argued that Pikoli had compromised national security by rushing to arrest Selebi and not allowing Mbeki sufficient time to prepare the country and security establishment for such a move. 

It also emerged in media reports, at the time, that there was a late-night scramble by Pikoli’s replacement Mokotedi Mpshe to cancel arrest warrants and it all stank of a cover-up. 

Selebi was ultimately convicted of accepting bribes worth R166‚000 from Agliotti in exchange for showing him top-secret police reports. Selebi was sentenced to 15 years which was later converted to medical parole. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s approach to the Speaker’s case has been considerably different. 

Speaking during the ANC’s election campaign rally in Gqeberha on Saturday, he was asked to comment on the case and said that the “process must unfold” and that the law enforcement officials should be “given space” to investigate. 

“She [Mapisa-Nqakula] said she will take special leave, and there is a process that must unfold. As I have always said, we have processes and well-geared, independent institutions. In the end, we must rely on those institutions to do their work, and when we give them space and the opportunity to do their work, then we will be successful,” he said.

This means that Ramaphosa will at least allow Andrea Johnson and her team at the ID to take the case to court and it will be up to the prosecutors to prove the charges. Johnson has successfully prosecuted exactly this kind of case before and she will know precisely what she needs for a conviction. 

At a time when the reputation of the NPA and ID is in desperate need of a win, this could well be it. Johnson would quite like the deja Vu of a high-profile conviction like the one she witnessed in Judge Joffe’s court in 2010.

However, we can expect the ANC to close ranks around the Speaker in Parliament. And Johnson and her team will have to battle their way through another Stalingrad-style legal defence before they get anywhere close to a guilty verdict. 

By Mandy Wiener – Host of 702 Midday Report

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