Editorial: White-anting the NPA suits Zuma
The National Prosecuting Authority has lost yet another opportunity to put itself on a solid footing and to regain the credibility lost over the past six or seven years, in which it has seemed to be involved in all sorts of partisan political battles and has been largely paralysed by internal ructions. By all accounts, there was virtually a war between the factions.
Nomgcobo Jiba, who was acting national director of public prosecutions for nearly two years, as the president, who makes the appointment, struggled to find a permanent director to his liking, served as one node of a polarised working environment.
President Jacob Zuma’s eventual choice, Mxolisi Nxasana, emerged as an unlikely node of opposition to the Jiba camp when he refused to play second fiddle to her. But, despite Jiba being implicated in some highly questionable prosecutorial decisions, to the extent that Nxasana had her alleged misconduct reported to the General Council of the Bar, the police and the president, Zuma was unmoved. He refused to suspend her or institute an inquiry into the NPA shenanigans Nxasana had laid at her door. Nxasana, white-anted from within and without, was left with little choice but to go.
There are two ways of ending a war: by making peace or by annihilating the opposition. Zuma’s new choice, a youngish career prosecutor by the name of Shaun Abrahams, appears to have chosen the latter.
This past week he presided over the withdrawal of perjury charges against Jiba and reportedly gave her power and portfolios that in effect make her a super deputy, while sidelining her enemies. This is precisely what people concerned about the decay and paralysis in the NPA didn’t want to see happen. Jiba has denied that she “works for” Zuma, but some of her most visible actions as an NPA leader have suggested she may indeed be there to act as proxy for political interests – to ward off the possibility of any revived prosecution of the president on the charges that were dropped in 2009, to keep the heat off close Zuma allies such as former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, and to get moving on prosecutions of others seen as enemies of either the president or allies of his, especially in KwaZulu-Natal.
Abrahams’s embrace of Jiba, in the midst of serious allegations against her that are or were in the process of being tested, smacks of cynicism, despite his pious promise that he was nobody’s man.
The NPA has been headless since Thabo Mbeki suspended Vusi Pikoli, and it has suited Zuma to keep it so, contributing to its decline as a crime-fighting unit. Putting Jiba back in position simply retards any chance of the NPA regaining its full capacity or sense of independent public purpose. Maybe that’s the point.