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Zuma abandons bid to keep Simelane as NPA boss

Nickolaus Bauer

President Jacob Zuma has given up on his bid to appeal a court ruling that found his appointment of Menzi Simelane as head of the NPA was invalid.

President Jacob Zuma has dropped his challenge of a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling that Menzi Simelane’s appointment as head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is “invalid”, it emerged on Wednesday.

In court papers filed with the Constitutional Court on December 23, Zuma formally withdrew his appeal against the December 1 judgment by the appeals court.

The SCA ruled that Simelane’s appointment as the national director of public prosecutions in November 2009 was “inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid”.

Dropping the Constitutional Court challenge effectively means Zuma must relieve Simelane of his duties as NPA boss.

The Democratic Alliance, which initially failed in its North Gauteng High Court bid to have Simelane’s appointment overturned, welcomed the decision saying “common sense” had prevailed.

The official opposition argued that Simelane was not a “fit and proper person” for his position and that Zuma had failed to “follow proper procedure”.

“The fact that the president is withdrawing his appeal means in effect that he will abide by the decision of the SCA. This must mean that he has decided to appoint someone else in this position,” said the chairperson of the DA’s federal executive, James Selfe.

The NPA refused to comment on Zuma’s decision to withdraw the challenge, with spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga telling the Mail & Guardian it was up to the presidency to issue a statement on the matter.

Neither presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj nor justice department spokesperson Tlali Tlali could be reached for comment.

Legal woes
This is the latest in a series of legal woes befalling Zuma.
Last week the president appointed advocate Nomvula Mokhatla, the NPA’s deputy national director of public prosecutions, to act as the head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Mokhatla replaced Advocate Nomgcobo Jiba, another deputy national director of public prosecutions, who served in the position for less than a week following the controversial departure of Advocate Willem Heath.

Initial indications are promising though, as Zuma’s greatest political foes the DA said they were “encouraged” by Mokhatla’s replacement of Jiba.

The SIU and Simelane debacles came in the wake of an outcry over Zuma’s decision to appoint Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice of the Constitutional Court in September.

Mogoeng’s appointment came after Zuma “unconstitutionally” attempted to lengthen the term of then chief justice Sandile Ngcobo.

All of these decisions have come in a space of less than five months with opposition parties and analysts alike condemning Zuma for his apparent “blundering”.

But, as the presidency is not made up of Zuma alone, it’s uncertain as to who has been whispering bad advice into the president’s ear.

Following the Ngcobo calamity, the role of chief state law adviser Enver Daniels in Zuma’s choices was questioned.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has also been suggested as a possible source of the legal problems.

Zuma and the minister have a long standing relationship and are to be known political, so it would be a fair assumption that he has the president’s attention when he talks.

But, despite the finger being pointed in his direction, Radebe has flatly refused to shoulder any blame.

When approached for comment prior to the SCA appeal withdrawal, Maharaj would not be drawn into commenting on Zuma’s confidence in his legal advisors - or who was behind the bloopers.

“People are allowed to speculate—just know that when there is a problem President Zuma acts,” Maharaj said.

In an attempt to steady the ship, Zuma called in Michael Hulley to become his presidential legal advisor in early November.

“Mr Hulley’s arrival was to reinforce the legal team—not only in the presidency itself but across the board in the department of Justice,” Maharaj noted.

But, the jury is still out on whether Hulley’s experience in helping Zuma stave off charges of rape and corruption will lead to better overall legal decision making, or whether the controversial figure he cuts will be continued to be mired in the scandal surrounding his role in the Aurora mining saga.

The true test of Hulley’s impact will only be felt in 2012 when further important decisions are made.

Maharaj maintained that as a constitutional democracy people were always free to hold opinions—even if they are negative—but also warned against the ease of “sucking your thumb” to form your views.

“It is a narrow way of looking at things, to label these as mere mishaps. This is a fact of grappling with the realities on the ground when you are building a constitutional democracy,” surmised Maharaj.


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