South Africa

OPEN LETTER: Shamila Batohi, please ensure those implicated in corruption at Prasa get prosecuted

This is a letter that was sent to Advocate Shamila Batohi, National Director of Public Prosecutions, days after she took up office.

We write on behalf of #UniteBehind, a broad coalition of peoples’ movements, civil society organisations, law and policy support groups and faith-based organisations. We want to start this communication to you by unreservedly stating that we welcome your appointment as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). We also understand that you and your office will be inundated with work relating to corruption cases in the coming weeks and that your task of reviving the compromised and widely-distrusted National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is a momentous one. However, we hope that through this letter you will understand our urgent obligation to pressure the NPA and other criminal justice institutions into action. Our concern is with State Capture and corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and it is here where State Capture is true “theft from ordinary South Africans” as you’ve observed. We would go further and state that it is on our trains where State Capture even kills.

Our key mission in #UniteBehind is to build a just and equal society where all people share in the country’s wealth, participate in the decisions that affect their lives, and where the environment is sustainably protected for future generations. Since August 2017, one of our central demands is the building of a safe, reliable, affordable, efficient and quality public transport system, in particular, a commuter rail service. The most immediate and urgent task of the #FixOurTrains campaign has been resisting the endemic corruption, State Capture, political interference by the Executive, and incompetence and maladministration at Prasa. It remains our most immediate task to give effect to the right to a safe, reliable, and efficient rail transport for all.

The Cost of Corruption

As you know Advocate Batohi, the effects of State Capture overwhelmingly affect poor and working-class people who are reliant on the services of the state. Nowhere in our society is this displayed as clearly and brutally than on our commuter rail service.

Every week deaths occur on trains operated by Prasa. These are principally due to overcrowding, failing infrastructure and violent crime. Women and girls are routinely harassed and sexually assaulted with no protection or recourse for action. The systemic delays and cancellations inflict untold misery on commuters. Workers lose income and face threats of dismissal, whilst small businesses are crippled by absenteeism and late-coming. Learners lose time at school and at home using a service that is unsafe. The organisational dysfunction at Prasa, as a result of pervasive State Capture, has and continues to cost lives, increases the suffering of commuters and their families, and simultaneously causes major harm to the economy.

It was through State Capture that an estimated R24-billion was lost to the corruption that had been allocated to improving new rolling stock, infrastructure upgrading, and maintenance. It was through these funds, that commuters were meant to have the safe, reliable, efficient rail transport they need; instead, they were pilfered by corrupt individuals involved in organised crime and corruption networks.

State Capture at Prasa

For almost a decade Prasa was captured by an extensive criminal network including officials in the state and their criminal partners in the private sector. This period of capture began with the tenure of disgraced former GCEO Lucky Montana who was aptly supported by the previous board chaired by Sifiso Buthelezi, the current Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. From this point an array of individuals looted the agency culminating in the extraordinary case last year of the former chairperson, Justice Nana Makhubele, working with opposing counsel to facilitate exit-looting of over R56-million.

None of the few high-profile cases that have arisen from State Capture have led to the prosecution of those responsible. You will have no doubt heard of the Swifambo matter, where Spanish locomotives were bought for R3.5-billion when Prasa’s own engineers knew they would not fit our infrastructure. Despite multiple damning rulings in different courts against those responsible, Montana, Auswell Mashaba and Makhensa Mabunda walk free. #UniteBehind is in court alongside Prasa against Siyangena Technologies.

An illegal contract was entered into with Siyangena which ultimately rose to R3.9-billion for the installation of Integrated Security Access Management Systems (ISAMS). Needless to say, these systems were largely undelivered and where they were installed, they have only worsened safety and security. The main individuals behind this deal are Mario Ferreira and Roy Moodley. You may know Roy Moodley as the close associate of President Jacob Zuma who paid him R1-million a month including during the first months of his presidency. #UniteBehind and Prasa will be in the Gauteng High Court on this matter from 5 March this year.

There is another key matter where former board chairperson Dr Popo Molefe sought to compel the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (Hawks) and the NPA to reasonably investigate and conclude investigations into the above matters. It was under the term of Molefe that Prasa began to take action against its own systemic corruption after the release of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Derailed report. Among the remedial actions of the report were that Prasa was directed to assist the National Treasury in investigations of all contracts above R10 million for the period of 2012-2015. Unsurprisingly, in doing this Molefe was constantly undermined and personally attacked by those who were meant to be his political cover. The mountain of evidence Prasa’s legal division supplied to the Hawks and NPA was completely ignored.

The above paragraphs only touch on the extent of State Capture at Prasa. There are multiple other reports and investigations that require your urgent attention, especially the Treasury investigations referred to above. Until the key figures of this network are brought to justice, we know that Prasa remains vulnerable to being recaptured.

However, of most urgent importance is that there are billions of stolen monies that are desperately needed for reinvestment into a failing commuter rail service. It is crucial that the Asset Forfeiture Unit immediately take steps and initiate proceedings to protect these assets. Until then, we will continue to lose stolen funds so desperately needed.

#UniteBehind Action on 25 February

As #UniteBehind we represent the urgent interests of commuters and our members who utilise public transport. We do not accept the continued situation of inaction and will be demonstrating outside the Cape Town office of the NPA on 25 February to demand urgent investigation and prosecution of those responsible. We are, and will be clear that this is not a protest against you, but a necessary demonstration of people’s frustration at a lack of action and a disciplined protest to compel such action from the institutions that are meant to protect us.

We hope that you will further understand our frustration considering our previous attempts at compelling the NPA. These include the correspondences by one of our affiliates with the former NDPP Advocate Shaun Abrahams and our eventual action of occupying the Cape Town office where eight of our activists were so committed to seeing justice that they refused to be removed and were arrested.

We request that you be available on the 25th to receive our memorandum. The memorandum will outline in much greater detail the extent of State Capture at Prasa and our own recommendations of where your office’s urgent attention is needed. We further hope that you will address our members and the commuters present to assure them of your commitment to help bring them justice. They have suffered long enough.

We truly wish you well and are encouraged by your appointment. We intend to make this letter public one week from today, not in order to embarrass you, but because we believe that in order to take the necessary action you will need support from the public against the impending fightback. DM

This is an edited version of an original letter that was sent on behalf of the #UniteBehind Organising Secretariat to the NPA last week: Chulumanco Nkasela Dominic Brown, Laddie Bosch, Makhamatoane Moshoeshoe, Zelda Holtzman Alan Storey, Lindiwe Beyi, Phumeza Mlungwana. #UniteBehind will be handing over a memorandum to the NPA offices in Cape Town on 25 February on the urgency of prosecutions of those implicated in the corruption at Prasa. (Note: Supporting documents in the form of attachments have not been included here).

Daily Maverick Editor’s Note: The evidence against individuals who are named and implicated in State Capture is yet to be tested in court.

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