Simelane’s sideways shuffle

Acting prosecutions chief Mokotedi Mpshe’s chances of becoming the permanent National Director of Public Prosecutions have been boosted by former justice director general Menzi Simelane’s appointment as his deputy.

Simelane started on Monday as head of the national prosecuting service, a business unit of the National Prosecuting Authority that deals with the administration and appointment of prosecutors.

Mpshe led the unit before he was appointed acting NDPP after ex-president Thabo Mbeki suspended former prosecutions chief Vusi Pikoli. The implication is that he now cannot return to his former job.

In addition NPA sources point out that because of his decision to drop graft charges against Jacob Zuma, he enjoys presidential favour.

Simelane’s move to the NPA also appears calculated to get him off the hook on misconduct charges relating to Pikoli’s suspension. As justice director general, he endeared himself to Zuma as a noted campaigner against the Scorpions.

After investigating Pikoli’s suspension, former parliamentary speaker Frene Ginwala produced a scathing report on Simelane’s conduct as head of the Justice Department.

The Ginwala panel accused him of misleading former justice minister Brigitte Mabandla and of interfering with the NPA’s independence by drafting a letter for Mabandla, which instructed Pikoli to suspend his probe of national police commissioner Jackie Selebi.

Former justice minister Enver Surty requested the Public Service Commission to investigate Simelane’s conduct. It recommended that he be charged with misconduct and subjected to a formal disciplinary inquiry. If current Justice Minister Jeff Radebe had opted to act on this, Simelane faced dismissal.

Instead, Zuma, in consultation with Radebe, shifted Simelane to an NPA job that effectively leaves him out of harm’s way. Radebe will no longer be compelled to act on Ginwala’s call for Simelane to be removed as director general.

Radebe also forwarded Simelane’s rebuttal to the Public Service Commission but the commission’s chairperson, Ralph Mgijima, told the Mail & Guardian that the report was final and could not be changed.

Simelane’s shift has been widely reported as a demotion, but he will receive a slightly larger salary package and can put the Ginwala Commission behind him.

In addition, as deputy NDPP, he is on a permanent contract, while the DG’s post is contract-based.

His contract as justice DG was extended by three years in June 2008, but justice spokesperson Tlali Tlali said that he needed to be moved because of “operational realities”. He refused to elaborate.

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