A champion of justice – for Andrea Johnson, it’s all about an intense belief in right and wrong

A champion of justice – for Andrea Johnson, it’s all about an intense belief in right and wrong
Advocate Andrea Johnson, head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

The head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate is guided by a disciplined work ethic and a love of justice.

Advocate Andrea Johnson thrives under pressure and expects the same from her team. She tells them not to work according to their own expectations but to meet the demands of their oath and their allegiance to the Republic.

Johnson took over the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Investigating Directorate (ID) in March 2022 and was immediately under intense pressure to prosecute State Capture cases. In under 10 months, her unit has charged some of the country’s most high-profile corruption suspects who had evaded accountability for years despite extensive evidence, and the ID has offered a glimmer of hope that the age of impunity may be coming to an end.

The ID was established in 2019 to pursue cases arising from the Zondo Commission on State Capture, the Nugent Commission on SARS and the Mpati Commission on the Public Investment Corporation. Its multidisciplinary approach takes inspiration from the Scorpions and includes NPA prosecutors as well as police investigators from the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

It has opened 89 investigations, enrolled 26 cases involving 165 accused persons and worked with the Asset Forfeiture Unit to freeze R12.9-billion in assets and to recover R2.9-billion. Advocate Hermione Cronje led the ID from its inception but, as the unit failed to meet expectations, she resigned, reportedly owing to a lack of support and resources to meet the intense pressure to prosecute suspects.

Under Johnson’s leadership, the ID has led charges against former Transnet and Eskom leaders Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh, former Eskom executive Matshela Koko, former SAPS boss Khomotso Phahlane, former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Trillian boss Eric Wood – key players in the system of State Capture who dismissed attempts to hold them accountable.

“It is a lot of work,” said Johnson in an interview. “I think there was a day or two when I did say to my daughter, ‘I know I look awake but I actually think I’m sleeping’.”

Early ambitions

Johnson was six years old when she decided she wanted to be a public prosecutor. She was raised in Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal, and her father was a policeman who instilled discipline and self-respect. Visiting him at work one day, she saw an imposing figure in a black gown. Kids with TVs might have looked up to Batman or Spiderman but Johnson saw the local prosecutor. Her ambitions were set and she was guided by a disciplined work ethic, love of justice and an intense belief in right and wrong.

As a prosecutor, she led the investigation and prosecution against Brett Kebble and worked on the cases against former top cop Jackie Selebi and intelligence boss Solly Lazarus. She worked closely with prosecutor Gerrie Nel, including on the case against Oscar Pistorius, and successfully argued to increase the athlete’s prison time.

Read in Daily Maverick: “ID head Andrea Johnson pledges to prosecute people ‘who believe that accountability is like a myth’

She is forthright and doesn’t hide her opinions. During her 2018 public interview for the top job at the NPA, eventually taken by Shamila Batohi, she didn’t mince her words when asked how she’d change the prosecuting authority, telling the panel that the NPA’s leadership, her bosses, needed to go.

The ID isn’t a permanent unit and only seven of Johnson’s team of 115 are official staffers. The rest are on contract, duty assignment or secondment from other law enforcement units.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

After recommendations from the Zondo Commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa has committed to making the ID a permanent structure, giving it both investigative and prosecutorial powers in a similar fashion to the Directorate of Special Operations, known as the Scorpions, which was disbanded in 2008.

Although Johnson is adamant that there’s no room for the ID to fail, she acknowledges that her unit is just one cog in an underperforming criminal justice system. She hopes the ID’s work will spur the rest of the justice system and government departments to act against corruption and that it will help the public to understand that everyone must earn what they get rather than act on connections.

Read in Daily Maverick: “NPA’s ID head Andrea Johnson: ‘I am committed to bringing impactful cases to court in the fight against corruption’

“If we can leave behind as equal a society [as possible] because we got rid of as much of the corruption as we can, I think then the ID and its staff would have done the job. We have to leave the country whole, or as whole as it can be,” she said.

“I just think that getting justice, bringing equality and restoring as much human dignity as we can must be the purpose of why we do our jobs.” DM168

How we chose the People of the Year winners

In the past, Daily Maverick journalists decided who they thought warranted the title of Person of the Year, but for the second year running, we have asked readers to vote for their preferred choice, with the proviso that we still have the final say. Choosing the annual winners is a labour of love because that’s what it takes to get a bunch of DM editors to decide whether they agree or disagree with the choices of 13,000 readers.  Over the next few days, we shall republish online all the results in various categories. Heather Robertson, DM168 editor

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

home delivery

Say hello to DM168 home delivery

Get your favourite newspaper delivered to your doorstep every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.