Editorial: Zuma skewers the NPA again

President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Golden handshakes and handing out money will not soothe the trouble at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The institution needs an overhaul – and a strong leadership entirely independent of politicians. It needs to be cleansed of factionalism.

We reveal this week that President Jacob Zuma has offered NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana, whom he appointed a year ago, a golden handshake to leave his post – this after the president failed to institute an inquiry into Nxasana’s fitness to hold office as he said he would do.
Revelations that Nxasana was denied security clearance because of a murder 30 years ago (of which he was acquitted), seem to have been driven by the sudden desire to remove him so soon after he was appointed.

Since then, however, Zuma has gone quiet. He has not issued the terms of reference of the inquiry, nor has Nxasana been suspended. The president is presumably “applying his mind”.

Yet this is all too reminiscent of previous debacles to do with the NPA. Zuma failed to appoint a national director of prosecutions for almost a year after the courts ruled against his previous appointee, Menzi Simelane. The appointment of Simelane was obviously inappropriate in the first place, but it seems that a consistent measure of appropriateness has still not been found.

Zuma is technically conflicted on the NPA leadership. He seems to support a group within the body that defends him, and is afraid of anyone who might go against him. The NPA faction loyal to Zuma did not want to hand over the “spy tapes” relating to the many charges against him and why they were dismissed in 2009. It eventually took the Supreme Court of Appeal to compel the NPA to release the tapes.

We agree that Zuma should not be subjected to malicious prosecution, just as we agree he should not be let off for spurious reasons. The fact is that his roles clash: he is the head of the national executive as well as subject to prosecutorial processes. This is partly why the NPA’s integrity has been compromised.

Recent, further revelations of serious allegations against Zuma, to do with his alleged involvement in arms deal corruption, are a case in point. Though Zuma was not prosecuted, his presidential impartiality cannot be assumed. The drafters of our Constitution never imagined that the head of the national executive, whose functions include appointing the national director of public prosecutions, as well as judges, might be the focus of prosecutorial and judicial interest. Yet there is a clear conflict of interest.

An inquiry, if convened, would shed light on why Zuma wants to elbow out the fifth NPA director since 2004. An open process, not a backroom deal, should determine whether Nxasana is fit to hold office – or is merely the latest victim of the factional machinations tearing the NPA apart.

A golden handshake is usually sealed in secret, which would negate the values of accountability and transparency. South Africa deserves to know the whole truth.

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