Silas Ramaite at NPA committee meeting in Cape Town, October 2014. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/ TREVOR SAMSON
Silas Ramaite at NPA committee meeting in Cape Town, October 2014. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/ TREVOR SAMSON

The tensions within the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) were laid bare as candidates vying to become SA’s next top prosecutor were interviewed for the job in full view of the public.

The erosion of the public’s confidence in the NPA and the instability in the organisation were at the heart of questions  to the potential candidates at the Union Buildings on Wednesday.

In trying to answer some of the questions, acting national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Silas Ramaite, who is attempting to become its permanent head, admitted that the prosecuting authority is unstable, but claimed that improvements  have been made since he took over the  reins in August, after the Constitutional Court declared the position vacant.

Ramaite was the first of 11 candidates to be  interviewed by the advisory panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to provide him with a shortlist by December 7.

Five interviews were concluded on Wednesday, with four  more expected to take place on Thursday.

It was the first time since the NPA was established in 1998 that an open interview process  has taken place to provide a shortlist of candidates to the president, who is vested with the power of appointing the NDPP.

The NPA has for the last decade been  regarded as politically influenced, especially under former president Jacob Zuma.

Cleaning up the NPA is a key objective for Ramaphosa who took office in February.

Ramaite, who has acted as NDPP three times, admitted that there  is instability in the NPA, but said he cannot   label it a crisis.

Ramaite has served as deputy national director of public prosecutions for the past 15 years.

Tensions flared up when South Gauteng director of public prosecutions Andrew Chauke had to face a barrage of questions on his business interests and his decision to drop charges against former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli.

Chauke said there  are factions within the NPA, and detailed how cases were taken away from him.

He specifically referred to factions among the four deputy national directors of public prosecutions. When asked in which faction suspended deputy NDPP Nomgcobo Jiba was, he merely said “she herself was her own faction”.

Adv Matodzi Makhari, decades-long chief prosecutor at the Mmabatho cluster in the North West who has yet to act in a high court, but who has nonetheless put her hand up for the post, said the NPA  is no longer the institution it was in 1998.

“It appears that our country, our people have lost confidence in us. You can’t demand to be respected. You have to earn that respect. The respect that we enjoyed back then has been eroded,” Makhari said.

Adv Matric Luphondo, chief prosecutor in Pretoria, said he thought some of the NPA’s top managers had become “entangled” in some cases they should not have, citing among others former NDPP Shaun Abrahams attending a meeting at the ANC headquarters.

He said if he became the NDPP he would urge for the quick completion of the disciplinary hearings into Jiba and suspended head of the specialised commercial crimes unit, Lawrence Mrwebi.