The firebrand prosecutor who helped Gerrie Nel bring down former police commissioner Jackie Selebi, and convicted murderer and former Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, has said that even the pope would not be able to save the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in its current form. 

In a marathon interview of two hours and 45 minutes, deputy director of public prosecutions in Pretoria, Andrea Johnson, made it clear to the advisory panel — appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to interview and compile a shortlist of names, from which he will appoint the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) — that there is instability within the NPA.

Appointing the NDPP is a power vested in the president, but Ramaphosa has veered away from the tradition by establishing an advisory panel to shortlist the candidates. The president has until December 19 to appoint a replacement for ousted NDPP Shaun Abrahams, whose appointment was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court.

During her interview, Johnson refused to say the institution was paralysed as a whole, as there are people still doing the job the NPA is mandated to do. She later conceded that she could not argue with the assertion that there is paralysis in certain structures in the NPA and most of its management.

Johnson said that when they found out a panel would be put together to conduct the interviews, she remarked to a colleague that the NPA would not even be kind to the pope, if someone like him was appointed. “The place, as it is now, would chew the pope up and spit him out alive,” Johnson said.

She said there was nothing wrong with how the NPA started, or its structures, but what it needed was an NDPP who leads by example. She said the biggest hurdle in the NPA is getting the buy-in of top managers, adding that the deputy national directors have become complacent and formed part of factions, which a new NDPP will have to deal with.  

The panel took specific interest in the Selebi case, and pushed her to talk about the decision of the NPA to enter into a plea agreement with Glenn Agliotti and Clinton Nassif, in which they became section 204 witnesses. However, she stood her ground and said the panel might not agree with the decision, but that it was based in facts and in law.

Perception of political interference

In terms of the current state of the NPA, Johnson said she has the perception that there is political interference with how state-capture cases are and have been dealt with, as well as with the now withdrawn charges against public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.

Gordhan was charged with fraud by Abrahams in relation to the early retirement of former deputy commissioner of the South African Revenue Services (Sars) Ivan Pillay. The charges were later dropped.  

“The reason I say it is political interference [is that Abrahams] goes to a meeting at Luthuli House. The very next day there is an announcement that there is a prosecution,” Johnson said, emphasising that this perception was not based on a thumb suck, but by watching and knowing how cases should have been dealt with in comparison to what actually happened.

Lutendo Sigogo, the representative from the Black Lawyers Association of SA on the panel, said — after Johnson indicated there was interference in cases she had worked on — he would have expected her to resign if she was not heard when she raised issues.  

“You are wrong,” Johnson said, adding that she dealt, in the main, with cases such as murder, cash-in-transit heists and robberies — contact crimes which have a direct impact on South Africans. 

‘‘In spite of [the interference], I stayed. I would not have allowed that. That is the easy route. If I don’t get my way, I won’t just go.’’

Smooth interview

Western Cape director of public prosecutions Rodney de Kock has had the smoothest interview of all of the candidates thus far, with panelists taking a more measured approach to questioning him.

De Kock appeared to have less of a grasp of the internal divisions in the NPA, and was pushed by the panelists to say how he would address these problems if he was appointed as NDPP. De Kock said he would ‘‘isolate’’ those responsible and that anyone who ‘‘deliberately’’ undermined the institution should not be there.

KwaZulu-Natal director of public prosecutions Moipone Noko, on the other hand, faced a barrage of questions relating to some of the prosecutorial decisions she has taken. Retired KwaZulu-Natal judge president Chiman Patel was awarded damages of R900,000 in his claim against Noko for malicious prosecution and reputational damage earlier this year.

Jaap Cilliers SC, representative for the General Council of the Bar on the panel, asked Noko whether she ‘‘really’’ thought the panel would do its duty to both the public and the president if they recommended her as NDPP. ‘‘Yes. There will be nothing wrong with that,’’ Noko responded. She was adamant she did not know why she was characterised as being controversial. 

The interviews are expected to conclude on Friday.