/ 13 June 2010

Silks split over NPA reforms

The new head of the state advocates' body has ruffled feathers by backing Menzi Simelane's transformation plans.

Two senior state prosecutors have resigned from the Society of State Advocates of South Africa after its newly elected chairperson, Kholeka Gcaleka, claimed that the body unequivocally supported the “courageous transformation agenda” of National Prosecuting Authority boss Menzi Simelane.

Prosecutor Retha Meintjes’ letter of resignation was leaked to the Mail & Guardian. The M&G has also seen the June 1 emailed resignation of advocate Mariana Brits, which says that she supports Meintjes. Interviewed this week, Brits declined to comment on her resignation, saying that it was “for personal reasons”.

In addition, the society’s Western Cape chapter has complained to the society about Gcaleka’s statement.

Meintjes resigned from the society with immediate effect after Gcaleka was quoted in the Sunday Independent saying that the advocates’ society supported the need for transformation of the NPA and backed Simelane’s restructuring plans.

Gcaleka was quoted saying that no concerns had been raised with Simelane about the proposed closure of the specialised commercial crime unit, the asset forfeiture unit and other units. There was no “closure per se”, but rather a streamlining of reporting, she said.

In a recent press release she said that it would be “business unusual” for the state advocates’ society and the NPA. Social cohesion and reconciliation in the NPA, the justice cluster and society remained national imperatives, she said. But these could be truly attained only if “anti-transformation forces, agendas and campaigns are unmasked and unflinchingly confronted head-on”.

Meintjes and George Baloyi, who worked on the Jacob Zuma corruption case until the charges were dropped last year, were among 16 senior state prosecutors Simelane demoted to lower courts. Gcaleka recently came under the spotlight when the M&G revealed that Simelane had chosen her and two other state advocates to replace advocate Gerrie Nel and his team as prosecutors in the Brett Kebble case and the trial of Mulangi Mphego, the police’s former crime intelligence head.

Mphego was charged with defeating the ends of justice, but the case was eventually thrown out of court. Meintjes said in her letter of resignation that it was clear from the comments made by society members that the views expressed in Gcaleka’s statement were not unconditionally shared by members.

Her resignation letter insisted that she is not opposed to transformation. “However, I am certainly not in support of transformation at all/any costs. I cannot reconcile myself with being a member of an organisation that appears to serve — as an alternative official mouthpiece,” Meintjes wrote. “The society has far too proud a history of independent, courageous acting in the unflinching interests of its members. In the circumstances I have, most unfortunately, no option but to resign with immediate effect.”

Meintjes could not be reached for comment, while Gcaleka said she knew nothing about any protest resignations. She asked the M&G to send questions, but the society’s secretary, Elaine Moonsamy, responded by saying that Gcaleka could not comment until the executive committee had met to discuss these issues.

However, NPA sources said many society members were now questioning the validity of the election of officebearers at its annual general meeting last month.

Other members have questioned how Gcaleka could say that the society unequivocally supports Simelane in his transformation agenda, given widely reported disputes between him and certain society members.

Instructions reassigning Meintjes and Baloyi were withdrawn last month after talks between their union, the Public Servants’ Association, and the NPA. The union is expecting to go back to the bargaining chamber to discuss Simelane’s restructuring plans, which have been put on hold until the justice, crime prevention and safety cluster strategy is finalised. — Additional reporting by Adriaan Basson and Jackie Mapiloko