The battle to be Bulelani

The announcement of a successor to National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Bulelani Ngcuka is imminent — within days, some say.

President Thabo Mbeki is most likely to look inside the NPA for a replacement. It is an open secret that Ngcuka recommended one of his four deputies, Silas Ramaite, although another deputy, Willie Hofmeyr, may also be a contender.

An NPA insider this week characterised the battle between Ramaite and Hofmeyr’s supporters as racially based and heated, and it was reported at the weekend that an anti-Ramaite faction had made representations to Mbeki.

Should the need to preserve the NPA’s cohesion force Mbeki to look for an “outside” candidate, he may have to counter the wishes of a strong lobby in the African National Congress that wants to see former Limpopo premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi appointed. The dark-horse candidate is Sandile Nogxina, director general of Minerals and Energy.

Frontrunner

Advocate Silas Ramaite, the likely frontrunner, is currently head of auxiliary services at the NPA, managing some of the less glamorous but vital “back end” functions.
Earlier he served as head of legal policy in Ngcuka’s office.

Ramaite was apparently recommended by Ngcuka as his preferred successor but it has been reported that he is opposed by a group in the NPA who consider him “too soft”. There has been media speculation that this led Mbeki to order a background check by the National Intelligence Agency.

His first job in the NPA was as Pretoria director of public prosecutions, where his most controversial decisions, taken with Ngcuka, related to National Commissioner of Police Jackie Selebi. In two cases where the Independent Complaints Directorate recommended action against Selebi, Ramaite came out against prosecution.

During the arms deal investigation, Ramaite, who is regarded as solid but not dynamic, sat on the panel for public hearings chaired by Public Protector Selby Baqwa.

Connected contender

Perhaps the politically best connected serious contender is advocate Willie Hofmeyr, a deputy director in the NPA who heads both the asset forfeiture unit (AFU) and the special investigating unit (SIU).

Hofmeyr is regarded as committed and hardworking, but his trump card may be his long and apparently trusted relationship with Mbeki.

A prominent anti-apartheid activist, he served in the parliamentary justice committee before being appointed as then- deputy president Mbeki’s parliamentary advisor in 1998.

After helping to pilot through legislation allowing the state to seize the proceeds of crime, he was appointed the first head of the AFU.

He piloted the first highly contested asset seizures and helped in shaping the legal amendments needed to close loopholes.

In mid-2001 Hofmeyr was appointed by Mbeki to head the new SIU, which succeeded the unit established by Judge Willem Heath, who had become politically unpalatable for government.

He is respected by his peers at the NPA and is regarded as having been close to Ngcuka. But counting against him is his white male profile, which, despite his struggle credentials, may be regarded as a political liability.

Party horse

In May, a Mail & Guardian headline boldly asked: “New sting for Scorpions?” At the time, the only name touted was that of the former Limpopo premier, Ngoako Ramatlhodi. But there was an obstacle: the Scorpions were probing corruption allegations in which he had been named. If claims that the Scorpions have made progress in their probe are correct, it is unlikely that Ramatlhodi will get the top job.

ANC insiders this week insisted Ramatlhodi was the best candidate and say he has a letter from the Scorpions confirming he is not under investigation.

Ramatlhodi has an LLB from the University of Lesotho. He represented ANC leaders during the struggle and served in the underground. In exile, he worked at the side of former ANC president Oliver Tambo and has been regarded as close to Mbeki.

Dark horse

When Ngcuka considered leaving the NPA last year, advocate Sandile Nogxina was considered a likely successor. Insiders now say he is not likely to leave the Department of Minerals and Energy.

Nogxina gets on well with his minister, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. That, unfinished business at the department and personal reasons may keep him from moving.

Should Mbeki call upon Nogxina after all, there are many factors counting in his favour. He is close to Ngcuka, his minister’s husband. And he is said to be close to the new Minister of Justice, Brigitte Mabandla, and Mbeki himself.

Nogxina has run a tight ship and has appropriate qualifications: he was legal adviser to the ANC in exile and former deputy director general of Public Service and Administration. He trained in military intelligence in Moscow and served the Umkhonto weSizwe underground in South Africa.

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