On Saturday afternoon, well known curator Cloete Murray and his son, Thomas, were gunned down in an apparent hit on the N1 highway near New Road. Thomas died on the scene while his father passed away in hospital on Sunday. If there was a high profile liquidation in this country, Murray handled it. He did so with courage and as a consummate professional. The list of cases he was involved in is lengthy, from VBS, Trillian and the Guptas to Dave King and Lolly Jackson. Most recently, he was working on Bosasa. The shooting took place on the busiest highway in the country in the middle of the day. There was nothing clandestine or hidden about it.
Murray and his son’s killings will have a chilling effect on all those who seek to pursue criminals and hold them to account in the way that he did. That is precisely the impact that these extraction networks and criminal syndicates seek to achieve.
It is a reminder that conflicts are solved with a gun in South Africa now instead of by the law. Criminal lawyers, journalists and investigators who personally knew Murray or who came across him during the course of his career, have been left by cold what happened to him. It is devastating. You can’t help but think who could be next?
It is the same chilling effect that has struck whistleblowers who are considering speaking up about corruption. Senior Gauteng Health Department finance official Babita Deokaran was gunned down after she closed the taps on fraudulent payments to dodgy suppliers at Tembisa Hospital. Despite a massive pile of evidence being produced by Jeff Wicks and News24, there is still no forensic investigation underway. There have been no arrests of those who ordered the hit or those who benefited from the corruption.
What happened to Deokaran strikes fear into the hearts of other potential whistleblowers. Why should they risk their lives to stop corruption in the way that she did?
It’s not just the case of Deokaran. It’s every other whistleblower that has been brave enough to raise their heads above the parapet.
Last month, High Court Judge Portia Phalane was due to deliver judgment on whether or not she would recuse herself from hearing argument in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church succession matter. But she could not do so because of the threats to her security. Phalane, flanked by bodyguards, told the packed courtroom that she had received “very specific” death threats and they were being investigated.
When judges are threatened with their lives, it could have an impact on how they rule in particular cases although we hope it never comes to that. They could make a decision based on fear.
As South Africans wake up on Monday morning, it will be to an unclear reality of just how extensive and destructive the Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF) so-called “national shutdown” might be.
The red berets, led by its Commander in Chief Julius Malema, have whipped the country into a state of fear and panic.
It’s not the EFF and Malema alone who have done this. We as the media have played our part. So too have leaders of other political parties and law enforcement authorities too.
For weeks, we have been told about a so-called “national shutdown”, meant to be against load shedding and for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s removel. Businesses have been told they must close. Workers have been told they must join in to shut down the nation and protest for the removal of Cyril Ramaphosa as President. Malema has walked an extremely fine line, not directly inciting violence and reiterating that the EFF enjoys a democratic right to protest. He has insisted that there will not be looting but his communication has been fork tongued and ambiguous.
As Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said this week, we can’t trust Malema and his supporters. And so it is the threat of violence and chaos and anarchy that is whipping up a state of panic, rather than actual violence or chaos or anarchy.
The collective memory of the July 2021 unrest and the shambolic, incompetence of law enforcement still fresh in our minds, who can blame us for fearing the worst?
But what the EFF has been able to achieve is for South Africans to change their behaviour out of fear of what may happen. Businesses have decided to close in order to protect their staff. Schools have shut for the day as a precaution. Individuals have consciously altered their plans to minimize exposure. I am guilty of doing this too. Who can blame this kind of reaction? It would be foolish not to.
Even the country’s law enforcement agencies have reacted similarly knowing full well that if they are caught unprepared again, it would be shameful and they would further lose the trust of the nation. Police Minister Bheki Cele and the National Commissioner have been inspecting preparedness, giving pep talks to platoons of officers. The President has put over 3,000 soldiers on the ground.
The strategy of the EFF has been to over inflate its influence and its ability to truly shut down the nation. It has picked an easy target of a Monday between a weekend and a public holiday and it has used rhetoric to incite fear.
This is also fuelled by the declining trust of the public in the police to keep us safe. Protesters are increasing using bully tactics, intimidation, threats and lawlessness to get their demands heard. We have the most remarkable constitutional democracy in the world which enshrines the right to protest and that should not be abused or disrespected.
The EFF’s reason for protesting is a valid one. Similarly, over the past few weeks we have seen healthcare workers and university students protesting and disrupting. They have every right to do so as per the constitution. But it is the associated threat of violence and intimidation that is deeply problematic. It drives more fear and more panic and this is compounded by our doubts about whether the state can protect its citizens and if the rule of law will hold.
We cannot allow our country to be run on fear and panic. It has to be run by the law. Our remarkable constitutional democracy cannot be threatened in this manner. The only way for that to happen is for the police and those who enforce the law and implement the law to be respected.
Holding those responsible for the brazen assassination of Murray and his son to account should be the first starting point.