President Jacob Zuma has appointed a deputy to prosecutions boss Menzi Simelane who was previously facing charges of dishonesty, unprofessional conduct and bringing the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) into disrepute.
It is the latest in a series of controversial and politically charged appointments.
NPA staff received a brief notice this week announcing that advocate Nomgcobo Jiba has been appointed deputy national director of public prosecutions.
Until Simelane’s predecessor, Mokotedi Mpshe, abandoned proceedings against her in late 2009, Jiba was facing internal charges arising from what appeared to be a personal and political vendetta against advocate Gerrie Nel, the former Scorpions Gauteng boss.
The NPA notice also announced the appointment of another deputy national director alongside Jiba, advocate Nomvula “Pinky” Mokhatla, who is relatively unknown.
Mokhatla has never worked for the NPA and has a low profile as an advocate. She previously served as a consultant for the department of justice.
Simelane’s own nomination by Zuma as national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) is still being challenged by the Democratic Alliance, which has argued he is not fit to hold the office and is petitioning the Constitutional Court to hear its application to set aside his appointment.
Like Simelane, Jiba allegedly showed she was willing to get her hands dirty in the political battle surrounding the Scorpions and the decision to charge former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
In December 2007 she was suspended by Mpshe, who was the acting national director, for her part in what Mpshe portrayed as a conspiracy to have Nel arrested before he could lay corruption charges against Selebi.
In a January 2008 letter to Simelane, then the director general of the justice department, Mpshe explained her suspension in graphic terms. “According to information received by the NPA, it seems as if Adv Jiba and other members of the [Scorpions] together with members of the SAPS, the department of justice … and the office of the presidency, and in spite of all indications that there [was] insufficient evidence and in a clandestine manner, did all in their power to obtain a warrant of arrest for Adv Gerrie Nel.”
Evidence suggested she played an active role in initiating the police investigation of Nel, who was her immediate superior, and in attempting to secure an arrest warrant when the police could not convince a magistrate they had enough to bring Nel in.
A heavily armed police task force eventually arrested Nel on January 8 2008, in what appeared to be a bid to disrupt the Selebi investigation.
The case against Nel related to allegations that he had interfered in the prosecution of Cornwell Tshavungwa, a former Scorpion convicted of pursuing a cover-up during his investigation of corruption at the Mpumulanga Economic Empowerment Commission.
Nel was released and charges were withdrawn, but indications are that the NPA, under Simelane, has initiated an investigation into Nel’s conduct of the Selebi case and the Brett Kebble murder investigation.
After her suspension Jiba received high-level backing.
She complained to Simelane and in January 2008 he wrote to Mpshe questioning the NDPP’s right to suspend Jiba and claiming the authority to intervene in the matter himself.
Simelane was rebuffed by Mpshe but Jiba later petitioned Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to intervene. Radebe indicated in June 2009 he would raise the matter with NPA management.
Details of Jiba’s actions emerged in her failed 2008 Labour Court bid to stop the disciplinary proceedings.
Jiba’s court application, first reported by the Mail & Guardian in February 2009, also showed that she had obtained backing from the powerful Gauteng head of crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli, who led the police investigation of Nel.
Mdluli, now national head of crime intelligence, provided an affidavit to the Labour Court in support of Jiba’s claim that she was a victim of an NPA conspiracy to protect Nel.
Mdluli also revealed that the police had been bugging the cellphone of then-Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy.
It was these police intercepts that were later leaked to Zuma’s attorney and provided the foundation for the withdrawal of corruption charges against him.
It is understood that before his departure as acting-NDPP Mpshe decided to end the protracted fight between the NPA and Jiba, but transferred her to the Specialised Commercial Crime unit and demanded that she pay the NPA costs for her failed court bid.
It is understood that she has not done so.
Key evidence against Jiba that emerged from the Labour Court papers came from an affidavit by her former NPA colleague and friend, advocate Vernon Nemaorani.
Nemaorani said Jiba blamed Nel for the investigation and conviction of her husband — also a lawyer — on charges that he had dipped into the trust fund of his firm of attorneys.
In his affidavit Nemaorani states: “What followed was a constant and passionate desire to have Advocate Gerhard Nel pay for the wrong that he had committed, and Adv Jiba was not going to stop at anything until that happened.”
Nemaorani described how in the months leading up to September 2007 Jiba “consistently talked about the fact that ‘they’ are working and something will happen soon … she mentioned that it relates to Adv Nel”.
“She mentioned meetings that were being held with people from the presidency, the department of justice and members of the SAPS. According to her meetings were even held … late at night.
“She spoke of a meeting which was also attended by the regional head of KZN, Adv L Mrwebi. She said Adv Mrwebi was flown overnight by a police helicopter and was flown back after that meeting. She did not mention the names of other people who attended the meeting, but said they are the highest-ranking SAPS members.”
Mrwebi is the former Scorpions head in KwaZulu-Natal who signed a statement on September 27 2007 criticising a meeting called by McCarthy to discuss how to counter the proposed disbanding of the Scorpions.
The statement became a central plank in Selebi’s court bid to stop the Scorpions from charging him.
Mrwebi said he had given the statement to then crime intelligence boss Ray Lalla and had no idea how it came into Selebi’s possession.
Nemaorani also described how Jiba involved him in her campaign against Nel, arranging for him to meet Mdluli and accompany her and the investigating officers in an initial, failed attempt to secure an arrest warrant for Nel.
A former senior official of the NPA, who asked not to be named, said the appointment of Jiba, was “just shocking”. He said it “looked like payback” for working with Simelane to oust the previous NDPP, Vusi Pikoli: “It is shocking that the interests of justice can be compromised like this.”
Other senior members of the NPA expressed dismay that other more appropriate candidates had been passed over, including the head of the sexual offences unit, advocate Thoko Majokweni, and advocate Xolisile Khanyile, acting-deputy director for South Gauteng.
Attempts to get comment from the presidency were unsuccessful.
This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.