/ 11 May 2015

Why did Zuma kill the Nxasana inquiry?

National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana.
National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana.

The commission’s chairperson, advocate Nazeer Cassim, told a room of legal representatives and reporters on Monday morning that he had received a message from the presidency “late last night”, in which he was told to “cease the inquiry”.  

Cassim was speaking at what was meant to be the first day of the inquiry being held at the South African Law Reform Commission’s building in Centurion.

“My mandate is terminated. The instructions came late last night – in fact, in the early hours of the morning,” Cassim said. “So I opened the inquiry, and I am now closing it.” 

He did not comment further. 

President ‘engaging with Nxasana’
After Cassim terminated the inquiry, as per the presidency’s last minute instructions to him, questions have been asked about why the president made this about-change.

IOL reported earlier that Nxasana and Zuma had reached a deal and that the NDPP, who has been in his post for under two years, would leave his office on June 1. 

The presidency did not confirm this, but in a press statement released about an hour ago spokesperson Harold Maloka said:  “The president is currently engaging with Mr Nxasana with a view to taking decisions which are in the best interest of the National Prosecuting Authority, Mr Nxasana and the country at large. The presidency will communicate the outcome of such deliberations once they have been finalised, mindful of the need for certainty and confidence in the NPA.”

When amaBhungane asked members of Nxasana’s legal team whether the cancellation had come as a surprise, they would only suggest that there had been “a feeling” that something like this might happen – although they would not elaborate. 

Nxasana’s attorney Busani Mabunda, said that it would be “grossly inappropriate” to comment on the decision before the presidency had issued a statement.

Asked whether he was surprised, Mabunda said: “I won’t say if I was surprised or not surprised.”

Nxasana “was at his office” and did not appear at the inquiry.

The long-awaited probe, which has hung over Nxasana’s head since  Zuma announced it in July last year, was meant to test the national director of public prosecutions’ fitness to hold office. His fitness was questioned after reports started to surface earlier last year about the reasons Nxasana, appointed to the role in August 2013, had been denied a security clearance.

It soon emerged that he had had run-ins with the law, the most controversial of which related to a murder charge he faced more than 30 years ago. He was acquitted of that charge after pleading that he had acted self-defence.  

Despite the rather swift decision to institute an inquiry, after reports about Nxasana’s past had been widely reported in the media, the inquiry’s terms of reference were only  made public in February this year. Monday’s date was set a little while after Cassim – who is also the chairperson of several other politically sensitive inquiries – was appointed. 

In terms of the NPA Act, the president can only fire the prosecutions boss after an inquiry about his or her fitness and with the approval of Parliament. The NPA has been beset by internal factional battles, apparently a legacy of instability within the institution since the demise of the specialised Scorpions unit in early 2009.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.