Advocate Andrea Johnson, a prosecutor with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), has revealed to a panel of interviewers how former NPA boss Shaun Abrahams refused to heed a warning that he must deal with the “perception” of the NPA and how it works.
The panel has been tasked with recommending to President Cyril Ramaphosa a new national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) to replace Abrahams.
Johnson is the sixth candidate to be interviewed for the position. Interviews began on Wednesday and continued on Thursday morning.
The prosecutor — who has tried high profile cases including those of convicted athlete Oscar Pistorius and corrupt top cop Jackie Selebi — is the deputy director of public prosecutions in Pretoria. She told the panel that while the prosecuting authority had grappled with political interference, she had warned Abrahams to take action when he became prosecutions head.
“When he was appointed I was a coordinator at PCLU (priority crimes litigation unit). He was the senior state advocate [in our office] at the time,” she said.
“He gets appointed, he moves out of our office obviously, and at a stage when I was able to, I asked for a meeting with him. I remember sitting across from him and telling him: ‘I want you to please remember in your chair that perception is half the battle. Do not allow perception about the NPA and how we function to continue. Deal with it head on’,” she said.
“He chose not to listen,” she recalled.
Johnson told the story as she was grilled on political interference in the authority during her tenure as a prosecutor. She was asked why only Selebi was prosecuted, while others were allowed to walk free. She responded to the panel, saying Menzi Simelane — the former NDPP and director general in the department of justice — had interfered in the case, as well as then president Thabo Mbeki.
“We had a president at the time who did not want us to proceed with that prosecution,” she said.
However, Johnson told the panel that while there were concerns over the instability at the authority, the next NDPP would do better than his or her predecessors.
“If I am appointed the national director, who the president is — and I say this respectfully — will not deter from the work I have to do. It will not deter from what the people in the NPA will be requested to do. That is the difference,” she said.