At the start of the ’90s, a young activist, Hermione Cronje, became president of UCT’s SRC and she used her position to force the university to transform. She has not stopped fighting and will continue her good fight as the head of the Investigating Directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement on Friday as part of his anti-corruption drive and added that the appointment is for a term of five years. The investigative directorate will be located in the office of Shamila Batohi, the head of the NPA.
After the directorate was established this year, it has long been speculated that the corruption buster was the front runner for the position. She had been instrumental in setting up the directorate and the head of the NPA had personally requested her assistance. She was instrumental in setting up the legislation and terms of reference that will govern the scope of the directorate’s work.
The unit is popularly known as the “new Scorpions”, simply because it will have the same structure and operations as the old Scorpions. The president has given it a wide-reaching mandate to investigate all forms of corruption and criminality. In the statement, the presidency said: “The directorate will investigate any unlawful activities relating to serious, high-profile or complex corruption, including but not limited to offences or criminal or unlawful activities arising from current commissions and enquiries.”
Apart from her history of being involved in university protest activities, at a time when anti-racism political activity was still dangerous, she is highly praised for both her academic and professional qualifications. She has spent more than 20 years building her expertise as a law researcher, advocate’s assistant and prosecutor to become one of the top minds in her field.
After completing her law degree in 1996 at the University of Cape Town, she became a member of the select committee on justice in parliament where she helped research and present to parliament international best practises on criminal and anti-corruption law. It can be claimed that she was the first employee of the NPA because its founding head, Bulelani Ngcuka, asked the young lawyer in 1998 to be his personal assistant, where she assisted him while he set up the unit.
Two years later, in 2000, she joined the NPA’s newly established asset forfeiture unit, under Willie Hofmeyer, helping to set up the unit and taking the first cases to court as a prosecutor. It was also in this year that she was admitted as an advocate. A few years later, she became Regional Head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the Western Cape and stayed in that position for 10 years.
Adv. Cronje does not like to take credit for her many successes and attributes it to teamwork. However, one of her more famous cases in which she was instrumental involved Schabir Schiak. At the time when he was being prosecuted in the arms deal corruption investigations, she is credited for the forfeiture of R30 million from him.
In 2010, she obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University and in 2012, she obtained chambers at a recognised bar. In her last year at the NPA, she was involved in the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Task Team, a multi-agency task team established to investigate, prosecute and recover the assets of persons involved in large-scale corruption.
After leaving the NPA to focus on her law practice, she became an internationally sought after corruption buster. Her reputation as someone who was good at finding stolen money and prosecuting the corrupt, saw her being appointed as a consultant for the World Bank’s and United Nation’s “Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative”. In this role, she has worked as an adviser and mentor for the asset recovery and anti-corruption units in Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and Sri Lanka. Her job was basically to help countries set up structures and laws to help find money that was stolen by corrupt individuals. She became even more in demand after writing a booklet for the UN in 2017 on confiscating the proceeds of crime.
Despite being an international revered globetrotter, home is where the heart and the mother of two decided to follow her heart. However, many of the country’s corrupt would have preferred it if she continued her globetrotting and none of them is celebrating her return. With her return, the message to them is very clear: ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’
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