President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has dropped his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s legal battle to protect controversial prosecutions heavyweights Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi — and told both that he intends to launch inquiries into their fitness to hold office.

The president has also indicated that he is awaiting the outcome of a Constitutional Court ruling on whether National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams was validly appointed before deciding on his continued leadership. That ruling is expected in the coming weeks.

Nomgcobo Jiba. Picture: SOWETAN
Nomgcobo Jiba. Picture: SOWETAN

These steps are seen as the first of several major executive interventions expected at the NPA. Ramaphosa stated within days of taking up office that tackling "leadership issues" at the NPA was one of his priorities as president.

Jiba and Mrwebi have until August 10 to provide reasons why they should not be suspended, pending inquiries related to multiple court rulings against them.

Both came under fire for their handling of cases involving former president Zuma, as well as their decision to drop corruption and murder charges against self-proclaimed Zuma loyalist and former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.

Rights group Freedom Under Law won a court order late in 2017 compelling Zuma to institute inquiries into both officials, in light of the multiple rulings against them, and to suspend them pending these inquiries.

The high court ruled that Zuma’s failure to act against Jiba and Mrwebi was irrational. That same judgment found that Abrahams acted irrationally when he withdrew fraud and perjury charges against Jiba. Those charges were related to the handling of the racketeering prosecution of former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss Johan Booysen. Zuma, Jiba and Abrahams then filed notices that they would appeal against that judgment.

Ramaphosa will on Thursday formally withdraw that appeal.

DA MP and former prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, who vehemently opposed the decision to drop the charges against Mdluli, stated that the importance of them facing inquiries "cannot be overstated".

Lawrence Mrwebi. Picture: SOWETAN
Lawrence Mrwebi. Picture: SOWETAN

"They are a pervasive, demoralising and toxic influence on the fabric of the NPA as an institution. Both occupy high positions that allow them to intimidate and inflict maximum damage on the institution and to interfere in prosecutions and investigations with impunity. They are not fit to hold those positions and their suspension is good news for the criminal justice system."

In letters to Jiba and Mrwebi, Ramaphosa stated on Wednesday: "I cannot underscore the importance of the public’s trust in the NPA and its most senior management. It is a constitutional institution that is central to the proper administration of justice. Doubt about the fitness and integrity of anyone in so senior a position as you hold jeopardises this trust and the ability of the NPA as a whole."

The pronouncements made by "various members of the judiciary have negatively tainted the image of the NPA and will continue to do so until fully ventilated and addressed", the president wrote.

Jiba’s attorney, Zola Majavu, on Wednesday confirmed Jiba had received Ramaphosa’s letter and would provide reasons why she should not be suspended.

Meanwhile, the General Council of the Bar is seeking to challenge a Supreme Court of Appeal judgment that found the Bar had failed to establish that Jiba was guilty of misconduct.

In a split ruling, the court’s majority overturned a judgment that Jiba should be struck from the roll of advocates.

While the majority ruling given by Judge Jerry Shongwe found that Jiba could not be found guilty of misconduct, he suggested she might well be incompetent for the senior position she occupies at the NPA.