IT MAY seem like very long ago when it all began to unfold and I’m sure many have already forgotten about it, but back in 2007 a widely respected national director of public prosecutions, Advocate Vusi Pikoli, was suspended from his position after he reportedly refused to dance to the tune of then president Thabo Mbeki.
There had been overwhelming pressure on him to back down from laying criminal charges against the national police commissioner at the time, the late Jackie Selebi, for alleged links with the criminal underworld.
Pikoli, who arguably belongs to the same league as Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela – a small circle that is perennially under threat – had been preparing to bring Selebi in but he kept being stalled by then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla, apparently at the behest of the president.
In today’s terminology, Selebi would have been described as being captured by one Glen Agliotti, now a convicted drug dealer, who was known to give him regular cash-filled brown envelopes when he wasn’t taking him on shopping sprees for designer shirts, shoes and suits at well-known exclusive boutiques in Sandton City.
Since there is nothing for mahala, Agliotti did this in exchange for favours that ranged from criminal files linked to him being lost to the police pretending not to see him, even when he stood right before them.
Seeing that Pikoli would not budge, Mbeki preferred to suspend him from his post rather than see him bring criminal charges against his friend and protégé. And so it came to pass that in September 2007, Mbeki sent Pikoli packing before he himself was given a kick in the butt a year later.
But it would probably have been premature to pronounce that what goes around comes around, or that the chickens were coming home to roost. The political sands of the time were still shifting in high gear; nothing was predictable.
Enter the Msholozi sweepers
In his 2013 Memoir “My Second Initiation”, co-written with journalist Mandy Wiener, Pikoli recounts how, still suspended, he was approached by people who acted like what one could describe as ‘sweepers’ ahead of Jacob Zuma’s arrival. In Pikoli’s words, several people told him that “the man” wanted to talk to him. “The man” was Zuma, before people began referring to him as Number One.
He described the sweepers as provincial leaders of the ANC, a businessman from Kwazulu-Natal and a member of the Johannesburg bar. “I refused, of course, because I did not know what I would say to ‘the man’. I can only imagine that Zuma wanted to meet with me to discuss his own pending (corruption) matter,” wrote Pikoli.
Needless to say, having ascertained that Pikoli would remain steadfast in his pursuit of wrongdoers without fear or favour, acting president Kgalema Motlanthe, the chief sweeper ahead of Zuma’s ascendency to high office, effectively terminated Pikoli’s employment contract, going against clear findings of the Ginwala inquiry into Pikoli’s fitness for office.
Others in the Zuma camp, he also wrote at the time, had told him that if he could just give them the guarantee that on reinstatement he would not bring charges against ‘the man’, the matter would be straightforward. “They said that even if (the Ginwala inquiry) were to recommend I be fired and the matter went to Parliament, they would simply instruct MPs not to follow the recommendation.”
We now know that this is possible in an electoral system where parliamentarians are accountable only to party political bosses and not to citizens who are their constituents.
Enter SizweNtsalubaGobodo (SNG)
Pikoli’s suspension by Mbeki and subsequent firing by Motlanthe would not be the end of his tribulations at the hands of politicians. It did not take long before the outlaws hounded him out and pressured him into resigning from his new job at auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo.
According to reports, Pikoli resigned his positions as shareholder, director and partner in March 2012 after ANC officials allegedly threatened to cut off government contracts if he did not leave the firm.
He told the Mail & Guardian at the time: “I was told that there was a clear expectation of me to resign because some unnamed people in the ANC were not happy that I was working for SNG and that it would in future be difficult to award contracts to SNG because of me.” At the time the auditing firm’s biggest contract, estimated at some R300m, was with Transnet.
Sweepers of political dirt
Now, it is hard not to prick up one’s ears when the name SizweNtsalubaGobodo comes up and dodgy political games play themselves out right in front of us.
Just a fortnight ago, KPMG CEO Trevor Hoole told his staff in an internal memo that “the recent media and political interest in the Gupta family, together with comments and questions from various stakeholders… have required us to evaluate the continued provision of our services to [the Gupta] group.
“We have decided that we should terminate our relationship with the group immediately. I can assure you that this decision was not taken lightly but, in our view, the association risk is too great for us to continue. It is with heavy hearts that we have reached our conclusion. There will clearly be financial and, potentially, other consequences to this, but we view them as justifiable.”
KPMG was soon followed by the four big SA banks which, no doubt, must have smelled the Zupta stinking bomb and saw fit to exit the room before it exploded in their faces.
Considering that auditing firms are like gynaecologists who see parts of their clients’ worlds that no one else does, it is safe to assume that whatever scared KPMG, Nedbank [JSE:NED], FNB, Standard Bank [JSE:SBK] and Absa off was of massive proportions, possibly with links leading to places where an average citizen’s eye must never wander.
It is strange that SizweNtsalubaGobodo decided to run into a reputational quagmire right as established reputation conscious firms were running out.
This begs the question: has SizweNtsalubaGobodo been mastering the age-old art of looking the other way… on cue?