If you thought the man that President Jacob Zuma appointed two weeks ago to head the National Prosecuting Authority was a lackey to the president, he would have you believe differently.
“I am nobody’s man. I am my own man,” said Advocate Shaun Abrahams on Tuesday after making his debut address to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) staff and the media as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP).
“I can assure you, I don’t intend using my power to protect anybody.”
Abrahams has only ever worked in the NPA. After 17 years in the organisation, he has now been tasked with a job that director of public prosecutions in Grahamstown, Advocate Lungile Mahlati, described as unenviable.
The organisation has been fraught with instability, more so in the past year, which ultimately led to the exit of former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana following a R17-million handshake. No NDPP in post apartheid South Africa has ever been able to complete their 10 year term in office.
Further, some senior NPA officials have been accused of making politically motivated decisions.
Abrahams knows that he can’t shy away from these matters, which he dubs as “self inflicted”.
“We are lawyers, officers of the court, and not politicians,” a firm toned Abrahams told NPA staff.
‘Only one camp’
The NPA has been engulfed in politics with senior officials divided along factions.
At the helm of one faction was Nxasana and on the other was Abraham’s once superior and now one of four deputies, Nomgcobo Jiba.
“Under my watch and leadership, there is just one camp, the NPA camp, guided by the Constitution, the rule of law and the integrity of the office we hold, by ensuring an all embracing and inclusive identity,” Abrahams said.
He laid down the gauntlet to prosecutors and other officials in the organisation, quoting statues of the law in laying down the rules.
“Prosectors play a crucial role in the administration of justice and are the proverbial cardinal gatekeepers of the criminal justice system,” Abrahams said, later adding that there is no room for abuse of prosecutorial powers and discretion.
Interestingly, he made reference to a quote that was used in the Constitutional Court when the case involving fraudster Schabir Shaik was before it that criminal prosecution is not about obtaining a conviction, but to fairly present credible evidence related to the relevant crime.
In his attempts to rescue the NPA, Abrahams has seemingly put his foot down on leakage of information and openly called out very senior NPA officials for this.
He went as far as saying that he is prepared to prosecute anyone found leaking any information, in violation of the confidentiality clauses of the NPA Act.
Abrahams is a familiar face in the the NPA headquarters in Silverton Pretoria.
Unlike his predecessors, he has worked alongside and under many of the individuals who will now report to him.
While he admits that turning the organisation around can’t be done by himself, he warned officials and staff members of the NPA that “it won’t be business as usual”.