Zuma dithers while NPA implodes
The struggle for survival at the apex of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) carries with it the fate of a host of politically charged cases.
They include the Zimbabwe rendition allegations against former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat, the reopening of fraud and corruption charges against politically connected KwaZulu-Natal businessperson Thoshan Panday and, ultimately, the decision on whether to re-charge President Jacob Zuma with corruption.
At the centre of these cases and the battles tearing the NPA apart are the figures of national director of public prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana and his predecessor as acting prosecutions boss, advocate Nomgcobo Jiba.
For nearly three weeks, the presidency has said nothing further about the fate of Nxasana, who has, since May 11, been scheduled to face an inquiry ordered by Zuma into his fitness to hold office.
In a move that appears to be stunningly cynical, Zuma cancelled the inquiry in the early hours of May 11 when it became obvious that the presiding officer, advocate Nazeer Cassim, was likely to rule swiftly and in Nxasana’s favour.
Zuma in talks with Nxasana
The presidency announced that Zuma was “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”.
NPA sources confirm that this “engagement” has been bogged down over Nxasana’s insistence that Zuma remove Jiba and her ally, the head of the specialised commercial crime prosecuting unit, advocate Lawrence Mrwebi.
In contrast to his approach to Nxasana, Zuma has steadfastly protected Jiba, refusing to agree to requests to suspend her or institute an inquiry into her own fitness.
As Jiba was appointed by the president, Zuma is the only person with the power to act against her.
Zuma’s backing occurs against the backdrop of a series of damning findings against Jiba by the courts and by an internal inquiry launched by Nxasana and led by retired Constitutional Court Judge Zak Yacoob.
These findings form the basis for perjury charges instituted against Jiba by the NPA and for a high court application by the General Council of the Bar, an advocates’ body, to have her removed from the roll of advocates, which would disqualify her from occupying her current position at the NPA.
Jiba defends herself
Jiba shows no sign of wanting to give up the fight. On Wednesday, she filed a robust and subtle defence against the charges laid out by the council, in effect accusing Nxasana of being part of “a political attempt to remove me from the NPA”.
All the cases for which Jiba is under fire from the advocates’ body are politically charged.
They involve the Freedom Under Law case to force the NPA to reopen corruption and murder-related charges against suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli; the decision to institute racketeering charges against KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss Johan Booysen; and the NPA’s stonewalling in providing access to the so-called spy tapes in the run-up to the Democratic Alliance’s application to review the 2009 decision to terminate Zuma’s prosecution for corruption.
In all three, Jiba’s actions while acting prosecutions head came in for stinging criticism from the courts, leading to the NPA asking the advocates’ body to apply to strike her off its roll.
But Jiba has come out fighting, calling the Bar Council application “misconceived, mischievous and … designed to embarrass me”.
Represented by prominent attorney Zola Majavu, Jiba alleges the case is based on hearsay evidence and incorrect assumptions – and that it offends the doctrine of separation of powers by short-circuiting restrictions on the removal of senior prosecutors contained in the NPA Act.
Jiba’s stand comes as the final affidavits in the DA’s application to reopen the corruption case against Zuma have been lodged and final heads of argument are being prepared.
Given that the DA has in effect shredded the NPA’s attempt to justify the 2009 decision to stop the Zuma prosecution, stakes for the president could not be higher.
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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.