/ 25 November 2008

Maduna guns for Mantashe

Former justice minister Penuell Maduna has asked the ANC to await the outcome of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) appeal against Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgement in the Jacob Zuma matter before making further pronouncements on the ruling.

The request comes after ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe launched a blistering attack on acting NPA boss Mokotedi Mpshe last week, in response to Mpshe’s criticism of the Nicholson judgement in a newspaper interview last weekend.

Maduna, criticised in Nicholson’s judgement for allegedly interfering in the Zuma prosecution, said Mpshe was merely repeating what the state has said in court papers filed in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

”There’s nothing wrong with him saying that. He [Mpshe] was purely saying: ‘This is why I’m appealing.’

”The sad thing is that this criticism, coming from Mantashe, has broader implications. He’s not saying these things as an ordinary individual.”

Maduna also offered professional advice to Mantashe, who recently came under fire for calling Constitutional Court judges ”counter-revolutionary”.

”It’s always wise and advisable for people in leadership positions to desist from making utterances that may further tarnish the ANC’s image and reputation. Unless absolutely necessary, public spats and bickering with state officials should be avoided.

”Utterances such as the one we recently heard tend to diminish popular faith and confidence in the credibility and integrity of state institutions, at huge cost to our relatively new democracy,” Maduna said.

Maduna asked the ANC to avoid further comment on the Nicholson judgement before the Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling.

”We shouldn’t be further politicising the matter.”

Maduna refused to comment on Nicholson’s criticism of his behaviour as justice minister, saying he will abide by the appeal court’s decision.

In an interview published in the City Press last Sunday, Mpshe was asked: ”You can’t ignore the political implications [of] your decision to recharge Zuma. Nicholson has already said so in his judgement. How are you going to deal with it?”

He replied: ”If you ask me that question 14 years from now I’ll still say Nicholson was wrong. Completely wrong. I don’t foresee a stage where I am going to change my position on this one.”

In response Mantashe said Mpshe’s statement was further proof that he and the NPA have little regard for the rule of law and the judiciary.

”Despite the admonition of Judge Nicholson, Mpshe has committed a grave violation of his professional and legal duty as a prosecutor by allowing his judgement on the Zuma matter to be swayed by extraneous political considerations.”

Mpshe hit back that it was his right to express an opinion on Nicholson’s judgement. ”It is a matter of public record that the NPA successfully applied for leave to appeal against this judgement, based on its conviction that it was legally flawed. Appealing a case because one believes that it is incorrect, and providing the basis for one’s contestation, is within the framework of our law … and this is a right that is afforded all citizens of this country, including the NPA,” Mpshe said.

Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said on Thursday that the ANC is attacking the NPA because it wants to avoid addressing allegations that its president is corrupt.

”[Mantashe’s] statements are damaging to the NPA because it creates … the impression that the NPA should not be trusted to prosecute without fear, favour or prejudice. And it seems to be only for short-term political gain.”

He accused Mantashe of being irresponsible, warning that once the public’s trust in the NPA is broken it will be difficult to restore. ”This is a very dangerous ploy for short-term political gain that is not taking into account the long-term interests of South Africa.”

On Thursday Mantashe insisted that if the NPA wants to be trusted it must avoid premature pronouncements.

”If they make political statements and say we will charge next year, all that it does is to destroy trust in the NPA. What they have done is to create a cloud over the ANC’s election campaign. They are playing a political and not a legal role,” he said.

Additional reporting by Rapule Tabane