The candidates shortlisted for the job of national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) have been grilled on an issue that has been of much concern to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) — political interference.
When Andrew Chauke, the South Gauteng prosecutions boss, appeared before the interview panel on Wednesday, his hopes of getting the top job might have been dashed. The panel of seven, led by Energy Minister Jeff Radebe, could not ignore a high court judgment by Judge John Murphy, which stated that Chauke’s decision to institute an inquest into the death of Oupa Ramogibe instead of prosecuting crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli for murder was “dubious”. Murphy asked what had motivated Chauke to make the decision.
The supreme court of appeal upheld Chauke’s decision to provisionally drop the murder charge and allowed Chauke two months to decide which other charges should be reinstated.
The panel asked Chauke whether he had been involved in obstructing the case.
“My understanding of my conduct in relation to Mdluli’s matter, I was not obstructive, I was not obstructionist,” he said. “You’re asking me if I’d still make the same decision now. I would,” he said.
Out of the five candidates who were interviewed on the first day, Chauke faced the most pressure, although Silas Ramaite, the acting national director of public prosecutions, who has been with the NPA for at least 15 years, also failed to satisfy the panellists.
When asked whether he was aware of political interference at the authority, Ramaite responded: “Not that I am personally aware.”
Radebe then criticised Ramaite for not knowing what was happening inside the NPA, despite a long career in the institution.
The advisory panel is the first of its kind to be appointed to help to select an NDPP. Previously, the decision was made by the president. The candidates interviewed were shortlisted by the panel, which will recommend at least three, from which Ramaphosa will then select one.
The process was adopted because of concerns about the performance of the NPA and because of allegations of political interference in many cases, such as that of former top cop Jackie Selebi.
Concerns have been raised about the panel and how it was constituted — and why Radebe and not Justice Minister Michael Masutha was selected by Ramaphosa to chair the panel.
Mukoni Ratshitanga, Masutha’s spokesperson, said: “As far as the minister is concerned, there is no controversy. As you are aware, the appointment of the national director of public prosecutions is the constitutional prerogative of the president. The president will, as a matter of course, also confer with the minister in the decision-making process, which renders the ‘controversy’ imaginary rather than real,” Ratshitanga said.
All candidates told the panel that they would fight against political interference. Advocate Anthea Johnson, the deputy director of public prosecutions in Pretoria, spoke about how she had tried to warn former NDPP Shaun Abrahams to deal with the negative public perception of the NPA.
“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 added.
The advocate said the NPA was a tough place to work in. “The place as it is now will chew the Pope up and spit him out alive.”
Other candidates such as advocate Matodzi Makhari, Matric Luphondo and Siyabulela Mapoma also seemed to impress the panel.
The Constitutional Court has ordered Ramaphosa to appoint a new NDPP by December 19.
There is some hope that the process will lead to an NDPP who will honour the office.
“The 11 candidates you have shortlisted, we are ready to stand tall. I cannot put only me. I look at your shortlist and all I think is every single person is ready to stand tall and say what was can no longer be,” said Johnson.