South Africa

STATE CAPTURE

NPA’s Investigating Directorate boss no more: Hermione Cronje quits after frustrating 30 months

Investigating Directorate in the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Hermione Cronje speaks after being introduced during a media briefing at the NPA head office on Friday, 24 May 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

Hermione Cronje has submitted a request to be relieved of her duties for personal reasons.

Hermione Cronje has resigned as head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Investigating Unit.

Daily Maverick understands Cronje’s resignation was channelled to the office of National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, on 30 November 2021.

It comes just two and a half years since her appointment and amid a growing level of public discontent at the slow pace of criminal prosecutions to emanate from the broader State Capture basket of corruption cases.

Cronje may serve notice of up to six months, essentially for handover purposes, or until such time as President Cyril Ramaphosa announces her replacement.

Thursday’s confirmation by Batohi’s office comes amid intense public pressure over the lack of arrests across various high-profile corruption investigations covering dockets including the Guptas, Transnet and Eskom.

Ironically, it comes barely two months since her team finally moved into its own office in Pretoria.

Cronje, who did not respond to Daily Maverick’s attempts to obtain comment, will probably leave with nothing but a thank you for your service from President Rampahosa and/or Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who were both in Nigeria this week.

The official line appears to be that Cronje is leaving for personal reasons, part of which Daily Maverick understands included a punishing work schedule of up to 20 hours a day.

However, those in the know have expressed concern that it may also have been brought on by a string of fundamentals that impacted the ID’s ability to deliver on a vital mandate of bringing to book some of State Capture’s prime suspects.

Citing a lack of support, one insider told Daily Maverick that despite a mammoth task of leading the unit to which South Africa looked to catching State Capture’s prime suspects, Cronje struggled for the basic tools of the trade for much of her tenure.

In July 2020, Daily Maverick detailed how Cronje had but the firepower of a mid-sized law firm while being expected to take on the might megamillionaires in Regiments Capital, Trillian Capital Partners and, importantly, the Guptas, among others.

Does the NPA’s Investigating Directorate have the firepower to take on the big fish?

No case illustrates this striking difference better than the NPA v Regiments Capital, a case in which the NPA is attempting to restraint over R1-billion in assets it believes to be the proceeds of crime.

NPA vs Regiments Capital: A dress rehearsal for one of State Capture’s biggest trials

Cronje previously worked for the NPA and was involved in the establishment of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) during the tenure of former NDPP, Bulelani Ngcuka.

The ID, hailed in some quarters as the new “Scorpions”, was established in April 2019 with a distinct mandate of tackling complex crimes in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act and the Public Finance Management Act.

Cronje enjoyed praise when, after just four months in office, the ID hit Regiments Capital with a R1-billion-plus draft restraint order.

The order has since been discharged and a decision on the NPA’s appeal is pending before the High Court in Johannesburg.

Earlier this year, the ID took former Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma and various others to court over a R24.9-million alleged scam in a case that is being described as the precursor to the new regime NPA’s Estina prosecution. This is also the ID’s maiden strike against four members of the Gupta family.

South Africa’s most wanted: Flushing out the Guptas

A State Capture activist and legal expert told Daily Maverick that it was concerning that Cronje may be used as a scapegoat for the much bigger failure to prosecute some of the high-profile State Capture cases.

A popular phrase that’s been thrown about in recent months is that she is not able to marshal the troops.

“That excuse though will only help for so long.”

Said one former NPA colleague: “She’s hardegat and does not do politics or diplomacy. But she understood the task at hand and the pressure of producing quality indictments that will not embarrass the State.

“Sure, she didn’t take nonsense, but rightfully so. What’s wrong with raising the bar?” this former colleague asked.

Cronje quickly became unpopular because she was not dazzled by authority and nor was she held back by the rigidity of public sector regulations, especially when it came to staffing the ID with the right calibre of staff and contract staff to deliver on its mandate.

One insider said it was clear that Cronje had become “fed up” of fighting. Her main gripe was a lack of competence and the resistance to bring in the right people.

“Hermione Cronje’s ill-omened departure will be cheered in Dubai, Vrede and Melrose Arch. Starved of resources, cooperation and sign off, she was practically forced to leave or participate in a growing farce,” said one legal expert.

This expert told Daily Maverick he believes the NPA to be bereft of courage and urgency in bringing State Capture cases to court:

“The truth is the government has no appetite for big-ticket State Capture prosecutions. If they did, Advocate Cronje and her team would have had a Zondo-sized budget and three-dozen ripe indictments. The Presidency, Ministers of Police, Justice and Dirco would be hoping to support these prosecutions. Instead, they wash their hands.”

Where is Crime Intelligence, State Security or International Relations in the quest to bring the Guptas to book?

While Cronje’s resignation is bound to be celebrated among those implicated in particularly State Capture corruption, as her departure will likely unsettle the rhythm and game plan of some of the big cases, there are enough experienced hands on deck to see things through.

The ID has a team of highly skilled internal and external senior counsel working on some of those matters.

The unit has had a rough time getting out of the starting blocks. Daily Maverick understands that it has about 100 people currently, with 50% of those being contract staff that came across from the Zondo Commission.

But, for a large part, the ID – in just two and a half years of existence – also battled a regular exodus of staff, including those who had been brought in on secondment.

While some have not been the right “fit” for the unit, others have left for valid financial considerations, Daily Maverick understands.

“These people have been in employment’s no-man’s-land. Mostly employed on contract, they worried about job security. Some could not even apply for home loans so it often made sense that good people left because there were more permanent options available elsewhere within the NPA,” an insider told Daily Maverick.

For now, the NPA has to move swiftly to ensure that continuity, especially with some of the high-profile cases initiated by the ID.

A national expert told Daily Maverick that the NPA, following the departure of former NDPP, Shaun Abrahams, has shown itself to be timid, ponderous and unable to convert State Capture evidence into prison sentences.

“It spends way too much time writing memos not indictments, a willing prisoner of its own bureaucracy.

“The deeper failure is the NPA’s sabotage by its government.

“Government can, but refuses to, make the geopolitical plays necessary to get the Guptas back. Government can, but refuses to, hire dedicated prosecutors, analysts and commercially experienced cops to move things along quicker,” he said.

“It’s as if the government wants the state to fight with one hand behind its back. Could this be because the ANC will be on trial?

“As far as outcomes are concerned, what really is the difference between former president Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa? Ramaphosa’s administration seems content to just abandon this constitutional duty in the veld to the elements.

“It’s a travesty made clear by Cronje’s walking away.” DM

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All Comments 46

    • 100%. Cyril the spineless. No appetite or balls to be a real leader, and his dwindling supporters cite his “long game” plan. Sorry prez, but you’ll be out to pastures by the time anything happens. And Bathoi? I still feel she’s 50% of the problem, conveniently just driving the prosecutions home. How useful for those implicated, why South Africa had high hopes for her and squirrel. Both turned out to be nothing more than scared kids in adult bodies. Shem.

      • Bathoi is frustrated by not having the resources to do her job properly and that fits in with ANC thinking but I also think that she’s too weak to take on the ANC with respect to correct resource allocation. On the other hand Hermione Cronje could have formed an exceptional unit but again was hindered by the lack of resources but also deliberate road blocks were placed to actually prevent her being effective. That’s my take on this and I blame CR for not taking a tougher stand against those that are working against the system.

  • This is so frustrating! ‘Her main gripe was lack of competence and bringing in the right people’. I presume BBEEE played a role. Pres. Ramaphosa has turned into a damp squid. So much promise, initially ..

  • This is extremely sad news. Not just Cronje’s resignation, but the likely reason for it. No doubt the NPA does not have the resources and capability to prosecute high profile cases. And that should be placed squarely in front of the ruling party, Ramaphosa and Ramola in particular. They obviously do not want these cases to go ahead because it can potentially destroy the ANC. The Zondo report will become just that, a report. Lying in his cupboard.
    Don’t care what anybody says, the NPA is on its knees, and it will stay there until….we’ll until Jesus comes!

  • “The truth is the government has no appetite for big-ticket State Capture prosecutions. If they did, Advocate Cronje and her team would have had a Zondo-sized budget and three-dozen ripe indictments. The Presidency, Ministers of Police, Justice and Dirco would be hoping to support these prosecutions. Instead, they wash their hands.” “Could this be because the ANC will be on trial?” “As far as outcomes are concerned, what really is the difference between former president Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa?”
    And this is the essence of anc rule. How sick can this banana republic called South Africa be? But I guess when a minister clearly states that he is not in government to be poor, what can/should ‘the people’ expect?

  • Wouldn’t it have made sense to direct the funds that were spent on the state capture circus to the NPA instead?

    Other than provide a platform for Zondo to perform for the position of Chief Justice he was eyeing I really don’t think we got value for our money with the commission. It also doesn’t help that it failed to meet its deadlines with the report, not that it matters because Zondo will most likely be rewarded with the Chief Justice position soon enough.

      • Why a stupid comment? Salatiso is entitled to an opinion just as you are. Because you may not agree or like it doesn’t make it stupid. You didn’t even justify why you think it’s stupid. Arrogance.

        • Really? If you cannot read, or see, the blatant stupidity of the comment (s), then your are also one. Money for State Capture commission was as waste? Zondo using the commission because he wants to be Chief Justice? There is the justification. Really man….wake up, you are in the real world, not the world according to Garb. The comment was stupid!

      • ……..because?

        Unless you follow through and rebutt each of the claims I made then I suspect it’s not so much the comment that’s stupid but the reader that says such.

        I maintain;
        – The funds spend on the state capture commission would have been better spent on the NPA, then maybe the criminals would be in jail.
        – To date the commission that is being headed by Zondo has failed to meet timelines, unless I’m missing something but asking for an extension from an original deadline means failure to meet a deadline,
        – More than anything we got performances instead of prosecutions from this commission, no surprise considering the history of other commission’s hence my reference to it as a circus, because people perform!

        Go…

        • Lets leave it there….absolutely no point to discuss this any further. However, since you feel so strong about it, why do you not write an article? Your 2nd comments, contradicts the 1st one’s. Did it ever occur to you that criminals are still based within the rooms of the NPA. But let’s leave it there, because there is absolutely no point to discuss it any further

          • No use Coen. If I can adapt a saying that I read somewhere: “… his supply of stupid far outweighs your supply of fact…”

    • If it had not been for the Zondo Commission, much that happened would never have come to surface & the majority of scum in the cast would never have been exposed. As far as Hermione Cronje is concerned, bright & pretty alone doesn’t cut it when idealism & commitment are missing. I know it’s hard …

  • the Pres and Lamola need to get back and sort this mess out and not wallowing around African states that cannot even get free border going and are actually of no value to us. give NPA Zondos budget plus interest and lets see some ill fitting orange overalls walking into prison never to be seen again.

  • This resignation is a gigantic nail in the ANC’s coffin. Cyril has just over 2 years to save the ANC at the 2024 general election. To do so he needs to ditch his long game, ANC unity, BBBEE, cadre deployment and get some prosecution success under his belt. Unlikely he will change his tack. So it is very likely that the state capture cleanup will only begin when the ANC is voted out of power. Maybe Cyril is the blessing in disguise that the country so desperately needs!

    • Did CR ever have a long game? I very much doubt it. He’s holding onto a long chain which he pulls every so often to flush away the criticism of the ANC, state capture, etc. And guess who’s instructing him to pull the chain? He is controlled from beginning to end by the looting cadres and doesn’t have the bollocks to admit it.

  • Sad news indeed, she could have made an exceptional contribution in bringing the corrupt to book … and therein lies the rub… in essence the state was captured by those in positions of power and/or influence over the state … to prosecute them would be akin to opening Pandora’s box.

  • Without wanting to detract from the thrust of the comment, a ‘damp squid’ is not the phrase to use. Most squid are damp (living in the sea as they do) and being damp would not worry them. The correct phrase is a ‘damp squib’ — a squib being (most commonly) a type of firecracker which will not ignite if damp.

  • It’s not that CR is useless. He knows that if he ‘allows’ the NPA to go after the Zuma faction they will put even more pressure internally on him. This was his plan all along – rather appear to be useless than having to deal with more pressure from inside the. ANC. Don’t be fooled.

    • The sooner “Buffalo” realises that his power does not eminate from the ANC the better. I thought the man was politically shrewed when he won the ANC presidency, but when he took the unity avenue that’s when I saw that He’s just a farce. The ANC has been dead for a long time now, and I don’t think he will see the second term under the banner of the ANC.

  • She was surrounded by what happens every hour all over government : officials can only get into trouble for bad decisions.

    So, if you never make a decision, you can never get into trouble.

  • Sad news indeed. The reasons for Adv Cronje’s resignation are dismaying. I hope she will not be lost entirely to the fight against corruption. People of her principle and calibre are rare. Any monies clawed back from corruption should be ploughed directly into the NPA to bolster resources and attract talent. We can but wish. And to think what SAA, etc, have cost us vs what it would cost to adequately fund the NPA.

  • ..’personal reasons’. Nonsense, if nothing else, she owes RSA the real reasons. Tell us whats going on behind the scenes. Athol Williams has the courage to be a whistleblower…she must follow suite.

    • She’s keeping that confidential so that she can write a book on her experience at the NPA. Of course that means no confidential disclosures can be made.

  • “As far as outcomes are concerned, what really is the difference between former president Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa? Ramaphosa’s administration seems content to just abandon this constitutional duty in the veld to the elements.
    NUFF SAID!
    And CR is just as useless as JZ. WHAT A JOKE!

  • Not a totally unexpected development, although a sad one for the country. If you have a government that will not find or charge the instigators of a coup against itself, then you know you are in deep, deep trouble. There were probably too many roadblocks thrown in the way of Hermione Cronje’s investigative unit, because in the end, theANC, where the malfeasance originated, surely doesn’t want to police itself and have all its messy disgraceful acts exposed. Cyril Ramaphosa values the so-called “ unity” of his party above that of the citizens The Zondo commission has already probably caused a great deal of damage thereto.

    • Great comment! It is extremely sad. Whatever Batohi might say, reality is it is going to delay any matter of State Capture prosecution. Or worse, a sudden stop to all that might have been accomplished, albeit not yet in the court room. My immediate thought was that first CR will delay the appointment for months, and secondly, the likelihood that it will be a compromised person is almost certain

  • If, instead of Zondo,the departments with pre-emptive rights of seizure and set penalties being SARS, the FIC, SARB etc, had not been asleep at the wheel, there could have been many forfeitures, prosecutions and guilty verdicts by now.
    Those cases would have revealed the same evidence as in Zondo-difference being the duty of proof of innocence lies with the defendant. Meanwhile the assets and money would already be back in state hands.
    Just 1 or 2 successful cases would have served to discourage others plus given the nation some hope.

    Instead yet another year draws to a close with absolutely zero cases fully heard or successful prosecutions.

    Those guardians have been missing in action and have let the country down terribly.

    With the NPA clearly failing-despite the evidence from Zondo there is zero chance of anything coming of it.

    So yes-Zondo has been a waste of time and money. It’s terms of reference shows also have included those guardians plus all the banks who are patently implicated but have got away scot free.

    • We’ve all got to realise that the Zondo Commission was set up to make everyone think that something was being done about state capture / corruption. Nothing will be done about it and it won’t be mentioned until CR faces re-election to ANC president, and, whether it’s before or after the election depends on the recommendations by the judge. Let’s face facts and admit that the honourable judge has been used for political purposes because, in reality, CR has nothing to separate him from one wanne-BEE multi- millionaire from another. They’re all doing very nicely but most want more.

  • The powers that be, politicians of all shades, corrupt business, spineless bureaucrats etc as the main allocators of state resources, which this clearly illustrates, will release / allow just enough resources to lull society’s anger. Don’t accept this, how about some foundation and or crowdfunding initiatives in taking just one case to court !

  • We had Mr Teflon (Zuma) in the past, and now have Cpt Inertia (Ramaphosa). We musn’t expect any derailment of the gravy train. The modus operandi of stretching investigative commissions as long as possible without reultant sanctions will continue forever.

    • That sounds fantastic but I think the ANC system is too big and too corrupt to give either of those very capable women the independent authority to make any headway in this cesspit of filth.

  • The last paragraphs say it all ….

    “The deeper failure is the NPA’s sabotage by its government.

    “Government can, but refuses to, make the geopolitical plays necessary to get the Guptas back.

    Government can, but refuses to, hire dedicated prosecutors, analysts and commercially experienced cops to move things along quicker,” he said.

    “It’s as if the government wants the state to fight with one hand behind its back. Could this be because the ANC will be on trial?

    “As far as outcomes are concerned, what really is the difference between former president Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa? Ramaphosa’s administration seems content to just abandon this constitutional duty in the veld to the elements.

    “It’s a travesty made clear by Cronje’s walking away.”

  • I suspect that this department was “window dressing” and the intention was to show “the world that we are doing the right things” with no real intention of high profile prosecutions. The most obvious being the “July Insurrection” and CR stating “We know who they are” but nothing has been done. The ANC always puts the party before the people of South Africa and I don’t believe that will change.