President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

Trying to choose the most potent symbol of Jacob Zuma’s misrule is not easy. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which has had six permanent heads in the past two decades, although incumbents are supposed to serve for 10 years, is probably near the top of the list. 

It’s a tale of an organisation that pandered to politicians and was staffed with officials who showed no regard for their duties, or respect for the courts they are supposed to serve.

Two of the most controversial figures that moved up the ranks were Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi. They were elevated to their roles as deputy national director of public prosecutions and special director of prosecutions, respectively, by the former president.

As acting NDPP, Jiba instituted racketeering charges against former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen, who was incidentally investigating sensitive cases involving controversial businessman Toshan Panday, a former business partner of Zuma’s son Edward. Mrwebi dropped charges against another Zuma ally, former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.

The courts set aside both decisions, but Booysen was re-indicted. Mdluli, on the other hand, has still not faced the graft charges despite prosecutors and the Hawks believing there was a case to answer. 

Over the years, the pair were protected by Zuma, who was the only one who could suspend or investigate them after serious judicial criticisms started rolling in over how they had conducted themselves in litigation, which led to them being struck from the roll of advocates in 2016.

The NPA has been left with an even bigger opportunity to restore its integrity after Mokgoro and her team gave President Cyril Ramaphosa the ammunition he needs to fire [Jiba and Mrwebi].

Two years later the high court judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal, prompting the General Council of the Bar to the approach the Constitutional Court and argue that the pair should not even be advocates. Judgment on that case was reserved in March.

This week, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro and her co-panelists advocate Kgomotso Moroka and Thenjiwe Vilakazi took a stance on Jiba and Mrwebi after six weeks of hearing evidence, finding that they were not fit to hold office.

The NPA has been left with an even bigger opportunity to restore its integrity after Mokgoro and her team gave President Cyril Ramaphosa the ammunition he needs to fire two figures who have contributed to the decimation of an institution which the public has to trust.

Mokgoro and her team noted that the officials were often mired in controversy, consistently being taken on review for irrational decision-making and being found wanting by the courts. All of that damages public confidence in the institution.

“The NPA must instil a strong sense of constitutional values and belief in the rule of law. When these values are internalised and fought for vociferously from within the NPA, only then will the institution enjoy the confidence of the citizenry and become the prosecuting authority that South Africans deserve.”    

Ramaphosa has already taken huge strides to address the issues raised in appointing Shamila Batohi as NDPP and by establishing an investigating directorate which will, among other things, look at allegations that have emerged from the Zondo commission into state capture. 

But in this case, Ramaphosa has no choice but to fire them and show the courage which is needed to win over the public’s trust.

There may be a backlash from the usual suspects, as seen when he fired former SA Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane.

Ramaphosa followed every process, to the frustration of some. But now is the time to act.

Correction: April 26 2019 

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the NPA has had six permanent heads in the past decade. It has had six permanent heads in the past two decades.