19/03/2017 11:52 GMT | Updated 19/03/2017 12:37 GMT

Theft Of Chief Justice's Computers Raise Concerns Of Judiciary Being Targeted

The computers with personal information on every judge were stolen just 16 hours after the Concourt's damning social grants judgment.

Gallo Images / Beeld / Cornel van Heerden
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng

The timing and the target of the burglary of the Chief Justice's office have raised suspicions of links to last week's social grants case.

The Office of the Chief Justice, which is in Midrand not at the Constitutional Court, was burgled at about 2am on Saturday and 15 computers were stolen. That's less than a day after the judgment handed down by the Constitutional Court at 10 a.m. on Friday which strongly criticised the government over the social grants fiasco.

City Press reported that the burglars appeared to have targeted specific computers, which contained the records of all 243 judges in South Africa and at least 1 800 support staff. The stolen computers were on the first floor, so the burglars ignored the IT, finance, training and communications departments on the ground floor with more computers.

The stolen computers contain employment files on all judges, including Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the Constitutional Court judges, the high court judges and specialised court judges, reported City Press. The Chief Justice's Office told City Press that the information was backed up, so they retained a copy, but the gang may be able to access the personal information.

Police have set up a multidisciplinary team to investigate the thefts.

Justice Mogoeng's spokesperson, Nathi Mncube, told the Sunday Independent that they could not link the burglary to the Friday judgment but the Chief Justice was gravely concerned about it.

The Sunday Independent reported that also on Saturday, in another incident, Gauteng High Court Judge Ramarumo Monama was hijacked of his car at gunpoint in his driveway when he arrived home.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and United Democratic Movement (UDM) both saw the theft of the computers as suspicious, reported the Sunday Independent. UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the burglars appeared to be looking for information on the judges, "maybe with the view to embarrass the Chief Justice", which EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the timing was suspicious as after the Concourt "took some decisions unpopular with the executive, their offices get broken into".

The Democratic Alliance (DA) called the timing of the burglary "highly suspicious" as it came so soon after Friday's Constitutional Court judgment on the social grants matter, reported News24.

Friday's Concourt judgment was scathingly critical of Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, who has been shielded throughout the debacle by President Jacob Zuma and, despite the judgment, retains her position. The Concourt has ordered Dlamini to explain before the end of this month why she should not be held personally liable for the costs of the Concourt case.

"Like the robbery at the Helen Suzman Foundation, almost a year ago exactly, the DA views this as an act of intimidation," DA MP and former prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach said, reported New24.

"It is highly suspicious that the break-in occurred the day after the Constitutional Court handed down a damning judgment in which they were highly critical of the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, and the social grants crisis she has manufactured."

Breytenbach welcomed the appointment of the high-level police team to investigate the burglary.

Public reaction indicated disbelief that this was just an ordinary burglary.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen speculated that State Security Minister David Mahlobo and the State Security Agency were involved.

"My money's on Mahlobo and the kak-handed SSA. Signal jammer, imaginary social media villains and inept break ins. Intimidation of judiciary," he tweeted.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa called Steenhuisen's comments "wild, untested allegations" without a shred of evidence. "Wild allegations, frivolous conspiracy theories do nothing but to feed into a reckless frenzy in society, more so from those who claim to be leaders," said Kodwa, reported News24.

The ANC's Jackson Mthembu criticised the burglary as an attack on democracy and the Constitution.