Picture: 123RF/ DZEJMSDIN
Picture: 123RF/ DZEJMSDIN

Taking up the reins to lead the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is “jumping into a shark tank”, but advocate Shamila Batohi still wants to do it.

Batohi was the last of 11 candidates interviewed for the position of national director of public prosecutions by an advisory panel tasked by President Cyril Ramaphosa to provide him with a shortlist, from which SA’s new top prosecutor would be appointed.

Batohi is a senior legal adviser at the International Criminal Court, where she has worked since 2009. Before that she was the director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal — the first woman to hold that position.

Batohi told the panel that “the NPA is in crisis at the moment. Something needs to be done. The house is on fire and you need to put the fire out”.

Concern about factions in the NPA has been addressed by most of the candidates who have knowledge of the internal workings of the NPA, and who have been interviewed since Wednesday. How candidates would address that was a key area of concern for the panel.

If appointed NDPP, Batohi said she would first determine what was causing the divisions in the organisation: if it was thinking that did not align with the vision and values of the NPA, people in that situation would “have to look for work elsewhere”.

She said, however, if it was not something that went against the principles of good governance and that it was merely a difference of views, common ground should be found. She emphasised that the majority of prosecutors loved their jobs and were very competent.

Batohi said one of the measures of the NPA should be how much confidence the people of SA have in it. She said the NPA Act still made provision for investigations directorates, such as the now defunct Scorpions, and that the NPA should have an investigating directorate dealing with corruption.  

“It has to be all hands on deck to deal with corruption,” Batohi said.

In terms of what could be held against her, Batohi mentioned a traffic fine that she did not pay, while advocate Jaap Cilliers pushed her on allegations of racism made against her when she was DPP in KwaZulu-Natal, which led to a facilitator being appointed. Questioned further on this by other panelists, Batohi said that she still did not know the specifics of what the incidents were where she was allegedly racist.

Pressure to drop cases

In terms of more revelations into the internal workings of the NPA, advocate Simphiwe Mlotshwa — the acting DPP in KwaZulu-Natal after Batohi left and before controversial current DPP Moipone Noko was appointed — sketched a picture of being pressured to drop certain cases from the NPA’s national head office in Pretoria.

Mlotshwa told the panel he was asked to come to Pretoria In 2012, when he was acting DPP, to discuss the so-called “Amigos” case, in which two MECs were implicated and charged.

He said now suspended deputy NDPP Nomgcobo Jiba started the meeting, which was also attended by the prosecution team at his demand, by saying: “I understand that the DPP in KwaZulu-Natal required assistance in the matter.”  Mlotshwa said at no point had he asked for their assistance in the matter, and he refused to withdraw the charges.

He said Jiba had said, “Guys, we need to cut the loss,” which Mlotshwa took to mean that some of the accused needed to be removed from the matter. He also told the panel that now suspended head of the specialised commercial crimes unit, Lawrence Mrwebi, asked him in the meeting: “By the way Simphiwe, why do you hate politicians?”

Mlotshwa was removed later that year and replaced by Noko, who withdrew the charges.

Mvuzo Notyesi asked Mlotshwa if he was deliberately removed from the cases so that it could later be withdrawn by those who took over. Mlotshwa said that if one looked at the facts, it appeared so.  

Mlotshwa left the NPA in 2015 and is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Bar. The panel has until December 7 to furnish Ramaphosa with the shortlist.