Nomgcobo Jiba, the embattled deputy head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), has appealed to the Mokgoro inquiry to bolster the prosecutorial independence of the authority, whatever the decision was about her future there may be.
Jiba was closing her testimony at the inquiry into whether she is fit to hold office — chaired by former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro. The commission is also looking into whether Lawrence Mrwebi, the national head of the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit, is fit for office. This comes after the pair was roundly rebuked by several judges in some highly politicised litigation.
Jiba’s testimony on Thursday was the first time she has, in person, told her side of the story after years of criticism and allegations her decisions were motivated by political considerations.
In a statement at the beginning of her evidence, Jiba said she was breaking years of silence before the inquiry to be “finally judged by persons whose integrity and sense of fairness I trust completely.”
Jiba told the commission she was dismayed by some of the evidence the inquiry has heard — in particular the testimony of former Pretoria head of the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit Glynnis Breytenbach and her fellow deputy national director, Willie Hofmeyr.
She said their evidence, which called into question her rapid rise to the post of deputy national director and then to acting national director, “revealed a deep resentment that a young black African woman had been promoted to this leadership position”.
Jiba testified about some of the allegations against her including her authorisation of racketeering charges against retired KwaZulu-Natal head of Hawks Johan Booysen, which was criticised by the KwaZulu-Natal high court. The racketeering charges related to what was publicly known as the “Cato Manor death squad”. A now discredited exposé by the Sunday Times newspaper alleged that the Durban organised crime unit, whose office was in Cato Manor, had carried out the “extra-judicial killings” of 28 people.
Booysen told the inquiry that the documents upon which her decision to authorise the charges was based did not disclose any crime on his part, let alone racketeering. But Jiba said there was nothing unlawful about her authorisation of the charges, adding that killings by police officers had been gruesome. Though the police had claimed self-defence, there was no sign of a struggle on their part and this was something for the court to decide in any event, she said.
Jiba further addressed claims she and Mrwebi had protected former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli from prosecution. She said she knew Mdluli but in the same way that she knew many police officers.
She added that she had not ignored a plea by Breytenbach and fellow prosecutor Jan Ferreira to review Mrwebi’s decision to withdraw corruption charges against Mdluli. She had asked Mrwebi for an explanation and he had told her there was no evidence at the time in the docket that linked Mdluli to the crime. “And the understanding was that the case would be enrolled in the future,” Jiba explained.
“We withdraw cases all the time when we are not satisfied that the evidence is sufficient; and to me there was nothing untoward with this explanation,” she said.
At the end of her evidence-in-chief, she appealed to the panel that, whatever it decided about her fate, it should protect the independence of prosecutorial decision-making. She said if prosecutors thought that they would be subjected to a process — disciplinary or otherwise — when they were exercising their prosecutorial discretion it induced “a sense of fear”.
“Prosecutors would not survive if, when they have to make these decisions, they have to watch their backs,” she said.
Jiba’s cross-examination is scheduled to begin on Friday.