Now that Vusi Pikoli has pocketed his R7.5 million and is out of the picture, President Jacob Zuma has a free hand to appoint a new National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). The constitution is pretty clear on this and also on what that person should be: The head of the NPA must be a “fit and proper person” and “able to appear in any court in the Republic”. In other words, he or she, must be an advocate. We take a look at some of the possible candidates.
Mpshe has been the acting National Prosecutions boss for more than two years. Technically, he’s one of the deputy NDPPs. He’s shown both strength and weakness. It was he who, during the Polokwane Conference, told Talk Radio 702 that he believed he had a winnable case against newly-elected ANC leader Zuma. He was on Christmas leave when he allowed Leonard McCarthy to formally charge Zuma. But as the political winds changed, he rolled over and withdrew the charges against the advice of the prosecuting team. During his time at the top, he’s made a few bad political mistakes. Coming on radio and answering questions was one of them. First, deciding to charge, and then deciding to withdraw those charges is evidence of a man who’s mind is easily swayed. Mpshe has told journalists, off the record, that he finds the job tough going (who wouldn’t have in that climate?), and may be wanting to get out. It’s possible he’d turn down a permanent appointment.
What’s in it for Zuma? Mpshe’s been manipulated before, he’d be easy to manipulate again.
Against: He’s unpredictable, and likes the spotlight a bit too much. He could be difficult to trust.
Hofmeyr has been around the block many times. He was part of the ANC’s team that helped draw up the Constitution, and has been a part of the NPA for years. He started and ran the Assets Forfeiture Unit (AFU) for years. Hofmeyr was a major part of the NPA’s decision-making process in withdrawing the charges against Zuma (we’ve always had a suspicion he could have been part of the leaks). He was closely involved in the prosecution of Shaik, and the investigation into Zuma, and has ensured the AFU has had more than its fair show of media attention.
What’s in it for Zuma? An old ANC man. Could be trusted in many quarters as a result.
Against: Too tied to the problems at the NPA. Plays politics. Part of the old guard which would make it difficult to move the agency on.
Currently the head of the National Assembly’s justice portfolio committee and formerly Limpopo premier. Ramathlodi was recently admitted as an advocate, leading to suspicions he was on the inside-track for the post. He fought a long-running battle against the NPA after it said it was investigating him on corruption claims. As part of the admittance process, the NPA eventually agreed not to prosecute him. Ramathlodi is the nightmare candidate. He tried to protect Judge John Hlophe during the Judicial Service Commission’s Constitutional Court hearings. He backs Zuma to the hilt, having attended his court hearings. Ramathlodi is a party man through and through, and could do what he thinks is in the interests of the ANC, even if that’s not really what Zuma wants.
What’s in it for Zuma? Party man, strong supporter.
Against: There would be a public outcry, and he may have done enough dodgy things to run afoul of the Constitution’s “fit and proper person” provision. He’d probably survive a court challenge, but Zille may think it’s worth a try.
A Durban-based advocate who acted for Zuma in a peripheral role during his legal battles. His name came from nowhere to the ranks of speculation on this (that’s a journalist’s way of saying, a rival publication says it’s going to be him, although we don’t really know why). But he has a few skeletons. He was involved in the Land Bank scandal, and was found guilty by the KZN Bar of misconduct. It’s a minor offence, but it does remove the golden sheen. He’s acted as a judge, which could remove any claim that he’s not a “fit and proper person”.
What’s in it for Zuma? No real political support base, so would be reliant on him. Zuma clearly trusts him
Against: No real experience of the national stage. May be seen as too close to Zuma.
The old retired judge
This person would likely have a long history of independence. Someone who retired recently and thus has a good understanding of the current constitutional dispensation. Also, someone who can withstand any kind of political pressure, someone who’s had experience of that. This person is likely to be fairly wise to the ways of the world and not tied to anything that’s happened in the last few years. This choice would allow the NPA to move on, led by someone most people would respect.
What’s in it for Zuma? Almost universal praise, from anyone who worries about what happens at the NPA. A chance for the country’s justice system to move on.
Against: If there’s anything Mbeki taught us, it’s don’t have an independent prosecutions boss – he could end up charging your friend.
The unknown outsider
Someone who’s currently practicing as an advocate. Perhaps studied at Fort Hare, the ANC’s nursery, and had some role in the Struggle. Preferably at least had a stint as an acting judge. Not linked to what’s happened in the justice system. Would allow the NPA to move on, and could have a free hand in making some changes.
What’s in it for Zuma? An unknown is difficult to criticise. Would prove that things are moving on. It’s also unlikely that such a person would make any attempt to grab the spotlight or do anything unexpected.
Against: If not checked out properly, could prove to be worryingly independent.
Our best guess: The unknown outsider.
It’s claimed Zuma is leaning that way. Also, it’s the easiest way out of his dilemma. It would be an appointment that no one could really criticise. Zuma’s always said he wants to fix the justice system. This would be an easy way of doing it.
But one thing we know for certain:
If it’s Ramathlodi, it would be a reasonably good moment to panic.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)
Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma attends the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit in Mozambique’s capital Maputo, November 5, 2009. REUTERS/Grant Lee Neuenbur