Mogoeng break-in sets stage for wide clamp on freedoms

We do not know who broke into Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s offices. We are unlikely to know because most crimes of this nature go unsolved in South Africa. But we should worry.

Current Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng Picture: Werner Beukes

We should worry because we have seen this script before, in many other parts of the world where states are captured by corrupt elites, and it’s ugly.

We should worry because first, in these captured states, they get intelligence operatives to break into judges’ offices. It is not to steal anything much: not valuables or information or anything similar. This is merely to intimidate the judges, to make them remember and realise that, “We know where you live and what you do”. Then they move against them, perhaps through an investigation or something similar.

While they put the screws on the judiciary, other wings of the dirty state focus on the media. They call for a media tribunal. They allege that the media is in the pay of rich elites. They invent new enemies – capitalist media, unpatriotic elements or some such. The intelligence ministry starts talking about foreign forces infiltrating local media. The term “in the national interest” is bandied about. A bill winds its way through parliament to ensure “national security” and clip the media’s wings.

As this goes on other, even more sinister, elements in the same state start pointing at NGOs. They ask who funds these NGOs. They start pointing at “foreign forces”, which are allegedly hell-bent on destroying the state. They start preparing legislation to muzzle NGOs or to make them jump through incredible hoops before they are registered.

The political opposition is accused of working for “imperialist forces”. Opposition leaders are manhandled in parliament. Personnel who are unknown and unidentified walk into parliament with weapons. Men in police uniform stand menacingly at the door of the house of the representatives of the people.

Does it sound familiar to you?

It should. It is what happens in Russia, where independent judges no longer exist, where journalists are jailed, where activists are detained without trial, where lawyers die at the hands of the KGB’s successor the FSB.

It happens in Zimbabwe, where independent journalists have been driven into exile, where NGOs are banned, where the judiciary is cowed, where the Central Intelligence Organisation rules by fear. It is where Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, was detained and tortured for months on end. It is here where activist Itai Dzamara has been abducted, and “disappeared”.

The judiciary in South Africa has been one of those institutions that makes you smile and feel proud to be a son or daughter of this soil.

When this government failed to give its own poor people antiretroviral drugs, it was the judiciary that ordered President Thabo Mbeki to provide them.

When President Zuma and his government opened our borders to the murderer of 300000 of his own people, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, it was the judiciary that stopped him in his tracks.

When Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution on the Nkandla matter, it was the judiciary that stopped him.

When student leader Bonginkosi Khanyile was held without trial and explanation for months on end it was to the Constitutional Court that the EFF turned to get him some justice. Last Friday it was again the Concourt which stood up for the poor and ordered action to ensure social grants are paid on April 1.

Vladimir Putin, the president and strongman of Russia, is one of Jacob Zuma’s heroes on the global stage today. When Zuma was ill a few years ago, he rushed to Russia for treatment and allegedly spent some time at the prime minister’s dacha. It is Russia’s Rosatom which signed agreements with South Africa for a nuclear build programme.

Zuma is a former spy chief. Putin came to power straight from the KGB. After eight years in power, Putin installed a proxy (Dmitry Medvedev) in office for four years. Then he returned to power again in 2012. Zuma is breaking the ANC’s rules in his bid to get his proxy, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, into power.

Politically, there is nothing that is happening in South Africa today that we haven’t seen before. This is the Russia playbook unfurling right before our very eyes. State-owned enterprises and ministers such as Des van Rooyen and Mosebenzi Zwane do the bidding of Zuma’s paymasters, the Gupta family, in the sort of daylight corruption that would not be allowed in a functioning democracy anywhere else in the world.

Securocrats such as David Mahlobo get away with conspiracy theories based on paranoia. Incompetents who bow and scrape like Bathabile Dlamini stay in office and in power.

So we might not know who broke into the Chief Justice’s office, but we do know within which context the crime was committed. And we should worry, because the smell leads all the way to the office of the man who does not want to go to trial on 783 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering.