Shaun Abrahams weighing his options on Zuma charges
National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams faces the toughest test of his career as a prosecutor as he weighs his options whether or not to reinstate the 783 criminal charges against president Jacob Zuma. He has until next week to make the crucial decision.
Whatever decision he comes up with will have huge implications for South Africa’s young democracy. If he decides to reinstate the charges against Zuma, this will mean Zuma will become the first South African president since the dawn of democracy to face criminal charges and the decision will leave the ANC with no choice but to recall him. This would put the governing party in a precarious position two months before the local government elections – given the fact that Zuma still enjoyed a lot of support – particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, and in Mpumalanga, the Free State and North West.
Equally so, if Abrahams decides to appeal the decision of the Pretoria high court to set aside his predecessor Mokotedi Mpshe’s decision to withdraw the charges, he risks being accused of being Zuma’s lackey, who cares less about restoring the integrity of the NPA as an independent body that should resist capture by politicians. The high court found that Mpshe’s decision, which paved the way for Zuma to take over as the country’s president in 2009, was irrational.
While Abrahams has never found himself in a similar position before, his close association with deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba – who is a known Zuma ally – means he might find himself facing criticism if he decides to appeal the high court ruling to protect Zuma.
Former NDPP Vusi Pikoli told the Mail & Guardian in an interview that while he did not want to be seen as interfering, he expected Abrahams to be guided by the Constitution and the oath of his office when he makes the decision on whether or not to reinstate charges against Zuma.
“If you want to promote the independence of prosecutors, this is what we are all about,” said Pikoli.
He said as far as he was aware, there would be no grounds for the NPA to appeal the high court decision to set aside the decision to withdraw Zuma’s case.
“I don’t see any new developments [regarding the Zuma case]. If the NPA was ready to prosecute then, I see no reason why [they’re] not [ready] now. Unless the Zuma [legal] team comes up with [something] new,” said Pikoli.
He dismissed suggestions that the high court decision undermined the principle of the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.
“It is not like the judiciary is interfering. It only set aside the earlier decision that was taken by the NDPP. [This] can’t be seen as not respecting the separation of powers,” said Pikoli.
However, Pikoli said the NPA would be within its rights if it believed there were grounds to appeal the high court decision.
“Our legal system allows losing parties to appeal. I respect the independence of the NPA,” said Pikoli.
He said if the NPA decided to appeal, the overall effect would be that President Zuma would continue to have the cloud hanging over his head for years to come. The NPA, on the other hand, would find itself forced by the Constitutional Court to reinstate the criminal charges against Zuma, if it loses its appeals,” said Pikoli.
Approached for comment, former NDPP Bulelani Ngcuka, who first said there was prima facie case against Zuma but that the NPA was not ready to prosecute Zuma, this week refused to comment about the high court decision.
NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said the organisation was still applying its mind on whether or not to appeal the high court judgment to drop the charges against Zuma.
Mfaku dismissed perceptions that Abrahams was a Zuma ally.
“The perception has no merits whatsoever. The leadership of the institution [NPA] has a responsibility to deliver justice to the people of this country without fear, favour or prejudice. They are bound by the Constitution and the rule of law. A decision whether to prosecute or not is considered within the confines of the rule of law,” said Mfaku.