A top government official purportedly on the run and her boss met in the corridors of their quiet offices on Thursday morning.
The exchange took place on the second floor of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) headquarters in Pretoria.
Waiting for my interview with the boss, I was just out of earshot but the exchange looked civil, but cold. Nomgcobo Jiba, the deputy prosecutions head, requested a meeting with her senior, national director of public prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana.
He is also the man who, two days earlier, had accepted a summons on her behalf to appear in court. This set off a very public verbal skirmish between Nxasana and police commissioner Riah Phiyega.
The four-page summons in effect calls on Jiba to appear in the Pretoria regional court on April 21 to face two charges of fraud and two of perjury.
But Jiba refused to accept the summons from Nxasana. She believed that the man whose curvy writing on the summons identifies him as a “Colonel Botes” was not the officer in charge of investigating her for lying and misrepresenting facts in the case against KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen.
She would only co-operate, she said, with Major General Norman Taioe, the person she believed had the right to investigate the matter, Nxasana told me afterwards.
The latest episode of the NPA drama began at 12.55pm on Tuesday, when two police officers, identified as Botha and Butler, arrived at the NPA’s Silverton offices, looking for Jiba. She was not there. They then asked for her employer, and this is how Nxasana claims he got roped into the drama. “I have never seen the docket. I don’t know the details. It has nothing to do with me. I just accepted the summons,” he said.
Nxasana then tried to call Jiba but reached her voicemail. He says he left a voice message and sent a text message. There was no response. The Mail & Guardian understands that Jiba left work because “she was not feeling well” but didn’t tell her boss because they barely even exchange pleasantries.
He then decided to brief the NPA communications team to issue a media statement about the happenings of that day. This is where Phiyega entered the picture.
Before the statement was issued, his cellphone rang. “I answered the phone and it was said that this is the national police commissioner. She said: ‘I am calling you in connection with the summons.'” Phiyega said that “the process was flawed and that the person who identified himself as the investigating officer was not”.
“So I asked if there is anything I can assist [Phiyega] with because I had just received a summons served by [her] members, who identified themselves as members of [the police]. And they were high ranking. Then she said: ‘Let us not do something that drags ourselves in the mud,'” Nxasana said.
This interaction with Phiyega seemed to tick Nxasana off.
‘Interference by senior police management’
“I told her that it is very concerning that when there is a particular senior member of the organisation investigated … suddenly there is intervention, or even interference, by senior police management. I then posed a question: ‘Do you really deal with all matters in the same way? We must guard against criticism and the perception that we are protecting our own,'” he told her.
The conversation ended abruptly and the NPA issued a statement that in effect said Jiba was on the run and police were looking for her.
When Nxasana got home, Phiyega called again, saying the NPA’s statement was incorrect.
The next day, Phiyega’s spokesperson, Solomon Makgale, issued a statement saying the police were not looking for Jiba, no summons had been issued and the NPA had “jumped the gun”.
Nxasana is still fuming. “I have a problem now because they are questioning my integrity … they are saying I lied,” he said. “The problem is my integrity and the integrity of the organisation [the NPA] is at stake.
“I have reason to believe that the national police commissioner was interfering in the case,” he alleged. “And this was not the first time. It has happened before.”
Phiyega’s version is completely different. Makgale denied that the police commissioner interfered with the case and said she was merely communicating with Nxasana her shock at hearing that the NPA had issued a summons for Jiba.
‘We are supposed to work together’
“Upon confirming this, [detectives head Lieutenant General Vinesh] Moonoo immediately contacted [Phiyega] and requested her to engage with [Nxasana] as the issuing of the summons while the docket is incomplete could jeopardise the investigation. Although we are two independent government departments, we are supposed to work together and the call to Mr Nxasana was out of concern.”
Makgale said: “Under normal circumstances, for a summons to be issued you will need to see the docket and engage the investigating officer. Both Butler and Botha do not have the docket with them.”
He added: “The issuing of a summons by the NPA without following the normal processes is particularly concerning, given the fact that they are the complainant in the matter.”
But Nxasana denied this.
“People must know that the only person who takes a decision to enrol the matter is the prosecutor. [This is] after satisfying themselves whether or not there is a prima facie case. It can never be the police who decide,” he said. “They have to investigate. And the investigating officer issued the summons.”
Makgale insisted that police are still investigating the matter as it “takes many months to investigate matters of this nature”. “The summons was prepared and issued by advocate Jan Ferreira of the NPA. It was not issued by the [police’s] investigating officer,” he insisted.
“At the time of the issuing of the summons by the NPA, the docket was and remains with General Taioe. Colonel Botha was given the summons by the NPA to serve on advocate Jiba,” he said.
Moonoo told the M&G that Taioe is, indeed, the rightful investigating officer in the Jiba case.
Police say they do not expect Jiba to appear in court on April 21. The NPA insists she has been summoned to appear in court on that date.
But what happens next?
Nxasana said any senior official facing charges should be suspended from the NPA. Does that mean Jiba should be suspended? He nodded. “Who will have to remove that person is a thorny issue. In terms of the [NPA] Act, my deputies, special directors and directors are appointed by the president and we are all subjected to the same provisions,” Nxasana said. “So whether I can suspend her or not is debatable … especially in an environment of a supervisor and a subordinate.”
With the latest drama, it is easy to forget about the commission of inquiry set up by President Jacob Zuma to investigate whether Nxasana is fit to hold office. That is not giving him sleepless nights. For now, he just wants an NPA that functions professionally without political motive and prosecutes without fear, favour or prejudice.
Jiba did not respond to numerous requests for comment. – Additional reporting by Mmanaledi Mataboge