South Africa

New Prosecutions Boss

Shamila Batohi tasked with fighting factionalism and putting out fires in the NPA

Shamila Batohi, 19 March 2016. Photo: Kris Kotarski/Wayamo Foundation/Flickr. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attends to deliver his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 14 November 2018. EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday appointed Advocate Shamila Batohi to head the NPA, the first woman to lead the institution. Her first task will be to tackle factionalism among NPA leadership and protect it from political interference.

Advocate Shamila Batohi will start leading the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in February after she was appointed National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings on Tuesday.

Batohi was one of five candidates short-listed by a panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the troubled NPA and emerged as a frontrunner during the interviews with 11 candidates, which for the first time in the NDPP appointment process were broadcast live on television.

My only obligation is to serve the country with humility and with dedication to the best of my ability,” said Batohi on Tuesday.

Let us not forget that this is also a historic role for women.”

Batohi will be the first woman to lead the NPA. She formerly led the institution in KwaZulu-Natal but left to work as a legal adviser at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in 2009.

During the interviews, Batohi’s experience and directness appeared to make her a favourite among panellists.

The house is on fire,” she said of the NPA.

The NDPP interviews, which featured many current prosecutorial leaders, acted almost like an inquiry into the NPA. Panellists and candidates repeatedly spoke about factionalism within the organisation, undue political interference, and a lack of public trust.

She was the chief prosecutor at the Edwin King Commission of Inquiry into match-fixing in cricket and was part of an investigation into apartheid hit squads. During her interview, Batohi emphasised the role of public prosecutors as “the voice of the victims in court” and the need to start improving the NPA’s credibility.

Having worked at the ICC for almost 10 years, Batohi is not tainted by the politically influenced factionalism in the NPA, which was heightened under former president Jacob Zuma.

You don’t fix a problem without first understanding it,” she said on Tuesday of the NPA, whose leadership has been beset by allegations of political interference and bias, with no NDPP finishing a full term since the institution was established.

While offering her support to prosecutors, Batohi acknowledged the NPA’s problems and said that support was conditional. She said the NPA suffered from crises and divisions that frustrate the interests of justice.

Let this support extend to every corridor a prosecutor might turn upon, the turn of every door she might pass through, and the creak of benches in courts across the land. Today your NDPP stands with you,” she said.

She told NPA staff they must hold the corrupt accountable, “especially those in the most privileged positions of government and corporate power.

We must recognise that challenges have always existed and they will continue to exist. It is in the meeting of those challenges that we fashion ourselves as a nation,” she said.

Ramaphosa on Tuesday noted the August judgment from the Constitutional Court on the retirement of former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana and on the appointment of Shaun Abrahams, which emphasised the role of an independent and impartial NPA, whose boss is appointed under the prerogative of the president.

Ramaphosa quoted the judgment:

The rule of law dictates that the office of the NDPP be cleansed of all the ills that have plagued it for the past few years.

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…”

The president added:

The national director of public prosecutions occupies a vital position in our democracy, and makes an essential contribution to upholding the rule of law and ensuring the efficiency and integrity of law enforcement.”

Opposition parties and civil society organisations highlighted Batohi’s need to act independently from political interference.

DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach, a former prosecutor who was on the shortlist to head the NPA but withdrew due to her political ties, said:

Batohi has a momentous task ahead of her. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been systematically eviscerated under successive NDPPs, permanent as well as acting, and is currently a shadow of its former self.”

Breytenbach said Batohi is “vastly experienced” and must tackle issues of State Capture, push for the extradition of the Gupta family, and “vigorously” oppose Zuma’s stay of prosecution application regarding his corruption charges.

The EFF, in a statement, said it will closely monitor Batohi’s prosecutorial decisions.

The EFF advises the NDPP to act with maximum impartiality, openness, and adherence to the laws that govern South Africa, because narrow political interests will try to manipulate the National Prosecutions Authority,” said spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

EFF leader Julius Malema also welcomed Batohi’s appointment.

Her strength will be shown through the prosecution of high-profile cases which involve politicians… particularly of the ruling party because we’ve seen in the past reluctance to prosecute,” Malema said.

Malema added that he hopes the new NDPP won’t be “micromanaged” by the “cabal”, referring to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The IFP welcomed the appointment.

Advocate Batohi demonstrates experience and maturity as she is a seasoned prosecutor and has served in the positions of former director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal and senior legal adviser to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court since 2009,” it said.

The party also welcomed the transparency in the appointment process. The courts ordered Ramaphosa to allow the media to broadcast interviews with the 11 candidates, providing unprecedented transparency in the appointment of the NDPP, an appointment which the public has previously only been able to scrutinise after the fact.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuses (OUTA) welcomed the stabilisation of the NPA, which has been without a head since Abrahams resigned in August 2018 following the Constitutional Court judgment.

We are encouraged by her willingness to take on the powerful who sought to hijack our country and her promise of independence. We look forward to the National Prosecuting Authority becoming an institution of which we can be proud,” said OUTA’s Wayne Duvenage.

Batohi emerged as a strong contender during her interview for NDPP, but she faced questions about her managerial style while leading the NPA in KwaZulu-Natal.

She was accused by staff of racism during her term leading the NPA in KwaZulu-Natal. She said she had learned from the matter but the allegations were never ventilated in sufficient detail and that she has since developed her managerial skills. DM


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