Shaun Abrahams. Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement in his first state of the nation address that he would tackle the leadership crisis in the NPA was welcome and has now come full circle. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Shaun Abrahams. Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement in his first state of the nation address that he would tackle the leadership crisis in the NPA was welcome and has now come full circle. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

With a malleable, corrupt or dysfunctional prosecuting authority, many criminals — especially those holding positions of influence — will rarely, if ever, answer for their criminal deeds."

It is tragically poetic that the guardians of SA’s constitution on Monday had to spell out what happens when your prosecuting authority is in shambles.

For years, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been put under heavy political influence, with presidents, including Thabo Mbeki, using the office to further their own agenda.

The apex court on Monday found that Shaun Abrahams’s appointment as national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) was constitutionally invalid and ordered that President Cyril Ramaphosa appoint a new boss within 90 days.

It’s quite possible that Zuma wouldn’t have ascended to the highest office in the land had the NPA been running as it should have been.

In its judgment, the court used words such as "instability" when describing the NPA and phrases such as "abuse of power" directed specifically at former president Jacob Zuma.

In the judgment, Constitutional Court judge Mbuyiseli Madlanga said political pressure on prosecutors to advance a political agenda was "antithetical to the rule of law, the founding value of the republic".

Zuma entrenched his power by controlling not only the structures of the governing ANC, but also state institutions — specifically in the security cluster.

It’s quite possible that Zuma wouldn’t have ascended to the highest office in the land had the NPA been running as it should have been.

The manipulation of the NPA started with pressure on former NDPP Bulelani Ngcuka to resign and continued when Mbeki suspended Vusi Pikoli in 2007, citing a breakdown in the relationship between Pikoli and then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla.

However, the former NDPP said it was because the NPA planned to arrest police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who had close ties to Mbeki.

Pikoli was eventually removed from office and acting NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe was appointed. It was under Mpshe that the corruption charges against Zuma were dropped.

Zuma’s allies in the ANC started rallying around him, accusing the NPA of being driven by political influence. The political meddling in the NPA became the rallying point for Zuma’s ascent to the highest office.

Eventually, despite admissions that there was nothing wrong with prosecutorial processes, Mpshe, in a shock development, withdrew the charges, a move that was set aside by the Supreme Court of Appeal almost 10 years later.

Had things been different and Pikoli, a man who is now being considered for the post, been allowed to complete his term, would things have turned out differently for Zuma, the ANC and the country?

Since its inception in 1998 not a single NDPP has been able to complete their 10-year term. This is testament to the ANC’s unwillingness to allow the NPA the room and independence to do its job.

There has been a knock-on effect on the rest of the country’s criminal justice institutions — the now disbanded Scorpions, the Hawks, crime intelligence and even state security — which have not been immune to the political toxicity that has afflicted the NPA.

Ramaphosa’s announcement in his first state of the nation address that he would tackle the leadership crisis in the NPA was welcome and has now come full circle. He now has the space to appoint an independent NDPP, who should exercise his or her function without fear or favour.

This is a key test for Ramaphosa, because there are so many within his own party who have been entangled in the state capture and corruption project and could potentially be at the receiving end of the wrath of an independent NPA.

Let’s see if Ramaphosa has the fortitude to resist the temptation his predecessors gave in to.

Over to you, Mr President.

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