Editorial: Can we fix the NPA?

Jiba was appointed the deputy national director of public prosecutions despite the pending court cases against her. (Cornel van Heerden, Gallo)

Jiba was appointed the deputy national director of public prosecutions despite the pending court cases against her. (Cornel van Heerden, Gallo)

We have said it in these pages often enough: the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is in deep trouble, and its dysfunction imperils democracy. It sounds more dramatic when those words come from an advocate for the NPA standing before a court in the black robes of a formal hearing.

Arguments in the high court in Pretoria this week were about overturning the decision not to prosecute President Jacob Zuma for corruption. That is momentous in itself.
But underlying that was the acceptance, now as common cause, that the NPA is – in the phrase Zuma himself used this week – “destabilised and haemorrhaging”.

When the Democratic Alliance sought to unseat Zuma through its doomed Parliamentary exercise this week, it focused on the effect his actions have had on the economy. The Economic Freedom Fighters would like to see Zuma indicted for failing the Constitution in his handling of the Nkandla debacle. The admitted mess that is the NPA does not even get a headline mention when the opposition starts to posture, so tedious has it become.

This in a democracy that intentionally adopted a central, rather than federated, prosecuting authority, so creating a single point of influence and failure. This of an organisation that has broad power to decide who faces the wrath of the law, and who does not.

Rebuilding faith in the NPA is a process that cannot even begin while Zuma is in office. For all his legally sound arguments to the contrary he is perceived as under threat of criminal prosecution himself, and that will not change.

But is there any incentive to start the rebuilding once Zuma leaves his post? As Zehir Omar, acting for the Society for the Protection of Our Constitution, a friend of the court in the spy tapes case, pointed out this week, the electorate expressed little dissatisfaction with Zuma’s leadership over the past decade. Nor has the famously self-correcting ANC taken its president to task.

His abysmal decisions on who should head the NPA – a power he clung to resolutely this week – gave Zuma an NPA perceived to be receptive to his needs. Even were that NPA never to take his side, friends and foes alike would fear that possibility. This power, of a perceived lap dog, he acquired at no cost to himself.

The next man or woman in his chair will know full well the political advantages Zuma accrued in this way. We can only hope that he or she will act out of principle, rather than allowing that power to accrue to them.

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