Former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro. Picture: VATHISWA RUSELO
Former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro. Picture: VATHISWA RUSELO

The presidency has expressed “deep concern” that none of the candidates nominated by legal bodies to decide on who should lead the National Prosecuting Authority is a woman.

Khusela Diko, spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa, said on Wednesday  that not one of the selected bodies had suggested a female candidate as national director of public prosecutions.

Some bodies had only offered female candidates as “alternatives” to the males they nominated as their first choices.

The bodies making up the NDPP panel include the General Council of the Bar, Law Society, Black Lawyers Association, Advocates for Transformation, National Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Human Rights Commission.

“The presidency is concerned — given the magnitude of this decision and the fact that there are capable and qualified female legal professionals who could contribute a great deal to this process — that they are not being included as first choice panel members,” Diko said.

This controversy came just hours after several leading advocates announced their intention to take on white male supremacy in the legal community  by forming a bar association with a majority of black and female members.

“We are unapologetically black and women orientated,” advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, one of the founding members of the Pan African Bar Association of SA (Pabasa) said at the voluntary association’s launch on Tuesday.

“We are creating an atmosphere where being black and being a woman are the norm. We are creating an atmosphere where black people and women do not need to explain themselves, do not need to seek white male validation to be recognised.”

The association, with 70 prospective members, aims to ensure that black and female advocates are briefed to argue cases involving commercial, tax and construction law, areas that advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said had been dominated by white males. He said white partners in law firms were inclined to brief white male junior advocates to argue these cases.

“This nonsense where they keep saying we don’t know who to brief because we don’t know you guys must really come to an end because you know its name.  It’s racism. Pabasa wants to stop racism at its root and we want to stop the sweet-talking nonsense. So if I mess up a case, I shouldn’t get the work. But if I win a case, I shouldn’t be excluded just because I’m black.”

Ngcukaitobi said Pabasa aimed to equip advocates excluded from commercial work, by creating a “school” — funded by law firms and with judges, among other experts, providing training — that could address gaps in knowledge and experience.

Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo, who was responsible for the rulings that enabled the state-capture inquiry to go ahead and found the appointment of former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams to be invalid, said the judiciary he led supported Pabasa’s goals.

“The judiciary I lead congratulates you on this project, and it is a judiciary that has assured me that it looks forward to co-operating with you fully, in terms of the agenda you’ve set for yourself,” he said.

Mlambo encouraged Pabasa to pursue litigation strategies “that go to the heart of why our constitutional project has not delivered”.

“I lead a judiciary that is hungry to ensure that the constitution becomes reality,” he said.

Meanwhile, Diko said the presidential inquiries into the fitness to hold office of suspended NPA directors Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mwrebi were being run by an “excellent” all-female legal team.

Those inquiries will be led by former Constitutional Court justice Yvonne Mokgoro with the assistance of Kgomotso Moroka SC and attorney Thenjiwe Vilakazi. The terms of reference for the inquiry will be developed by evidence leader Nazreen Bawa SC.

Diko said this team showed that the presidency was “leading by example” in briefing female lawyers on high-profile matters.