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

President Cyril Ramaphosa has finally suspended embattled senior National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) officials Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, pending inquiries into their fitness to hold office, a move that has been described as "long overdue".

Suspending Jiba, the deputy national director of public prosecutions, and Mrwebi, head of the specialised commercial crimes unit, pending the outcome of the inquiries, is seen as being critical to restoring the integrity of the NPA.

Nomgcobo Jiba. Picture: SUPPLIED
Nomgcobo Jiba. Picture: SUPPLIED

Jiba was alleged to be former president Jacob Zuma’s right-hand person at the NPA, which was said to have been politically captured during his tenure.

The suspensions were effective as of Thursday, and the inquiries would be led by former Constitutional Court justice Yvonne Mokgoro.

Ramaphosa, who the Constitutional Court instructed on April 13 to appoint a new national director of public prosecutions within 90 days after removing former head Shaun Abrahams from office, has taken the unusual step to appoint an advisory panel to provide a shortlist of potential candidates by December 7.

Ramaphosa, in his letters to Jiba and Mrwebi, wrote that he had taken into account the  serious nature of the allegations against the two, as the criminal justice system was central to the prosecution of matters,  especially corruption cases.

"You hold a senior position with influence over a large swathe of the NPA. It is the interest of the NPA’s image as a whole that I consider here, and of the integrity of an inquiry that must result in the clearest and most convincing conclusions about the integrity and sound leadership of the NPA," Ramaphosa wrote.

The president had given Jiba and Mrwebi until August 10 to give reasons why they should not be suspended pending the outcome of the inquiries.

This was shortly after the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned a high court judgment, which struck both officials from the roll of advocates.

They were initially struck off the roll because of the manner in which they had dealt with the matter against former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli.

The General Council of the Bar has now appealed to the Constitutional Court in a last bid to have them removed.

Nicole Fritz from Freedom Under Law, who approached the courts to have the pair suspended and probed, said it was a positive move and consistent with Ramaphosa’s February undertaking to address the leadership issues at the NPA and  stabilise the institution.

She said that Jiba and Mrwebi would not suffer particular
prejudice given that they were suspended on full pay, but that it allowed the space for a proper process to be undertaken to determine whether they should remain in the NPA.

The DA’s Glynnis Breytenbach, a former senior state prosecutor, said the party had always maintained that Jiba and Mrwebi were not fit to occupy office.

She said that they had played integral roles in the capture of the NPA, which included Zuma’s delayed prosecution on corruption charges. "If there is any hope for the revival of a near-terminally ill NPA, it is imperative that Jiba and Mrwebi be excised like a cancer from the body," Breytenbach said.