Next month was supposed to be special for prosecutions boss Mxolisi Nxasana. He would celebrate his first anniversary at the helm of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). If he survives until then, he well regret, rather than celebrate the day he accepted the job in August of last year.
He will be on ‘trial’ before a commission of inquiry established by President Jacob Zuma to investigate his fitness to hold office.
The decision to probe Nxasana is as controversial as his appointment in the first place.
“Who is he?” was the question asked by South Africans who understood the importance of the NPA as a vital cog in the criminal justice system, after Nxasana was appointed by Zuma.
Prior to his appointment, Nxasana was running a law firm in Kwa-Zulu Natal. It looks like he was doing well. But he was not one of the top legal eagles who would have been more than suitable for the hob.
A respectful senior counsel would have been the best option to repair an institution battered by political interference, bitter factionalism and questionable independence.
Those who doubted the suitability of Nxasana to lead the NPA concluded that Zuma had no interest in rescuing the institution from the brink.
He was always going to be happier with a weak NPA that would not feel emboldened to reinstate corruption charges against him. An NPA lead by a weak leader was desirable.
Nxasana, according to this school of thought would fit into this agenda of ensuring that the NPA remain weak.
Some of those who held this line of thought viewed his appointment through obsolete ethnic and geographic lenses. So, the fact that Nxasana came from Kwa-Zulu Natal, the president’s home province, buttressed their suspicion that Zuma’s appointment of Nxasana was unconnected to the purpose for which the NPA was established.
The purpose of the NPA is to prosecute and secure convictions without fear, favour or prejudice.
But there is always an advantage in appointing an underdog to critical position: they would like to prove themselves and build a track record.
It is not clear whether Nxasana was on this path to build a track record, which would naturally put him on a collision course with anyone seeking to tie him on a leash.
Could it be that the decision to investigate his fitness to hold office is a result of him veering from the mission to keep the NPA as weak as possible, as malleable as possible and as compromised as possible?
Or could there be truth that he is not fit to hold the position because of his previous problematic relationship with the law. Was his dodgy past, which included a murder charge for which he was acquitted, not a known trap that was always going to be dusted off should he stray out of the ‘brief’ whatever it was?
Or, did the president suddenly discover that Nxasana is incompetent to run the NPA – however ‘competency’ is defined?
Whatever happens to Nxasana, two things are almost certain.
First, an inquiry into Nxasana’s fitness to hold office might end up being an inquiry into Zuma’s poor decision making.
Second, Zuma will leave behind a legacy of a broken NPA, all its steel work ripped off, like the Orlando Towers. The latter prospects have dire consequences for the constitutional democracy.
As Judge Edwin Cameron once remarked: “Dishonest leadership, corruption and the destruction of independent state institutions could still wreck our ambitious constitutional project!” and that is a fact!
The NPA has been under destruction for some time.