Guest Column

Spy tapes: 'Political interference in the NPA'

2016-05-25 10:22

Lawson Naidoo

With the passage of time the detail of the basis of the fraud and corruption case against President Jacob Zuma have become blurred. It has woven its way through the courts for such a long period and with such legal complexity that comparisons with the fictional case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce (a long running family dispute over a conflicting set of wills) in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House spring to mind.

The 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering that Zuma potentially faces emanate from his relationship with Schabir Shaik in the 1990s. Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In delivering judgment in the Shaik case Judge Hilary Squires referred to a “mutually beneficial symbiosis that the evidence shows existed”.

The facts on which Shaik were convicted are the flip-side of the same tarnished coin that implicates Zuma. Shaik was the benefactor or bribe-payer and Zuma the willing recipient. Corruption being a transaction between two parties who are each complicit, both should be prosecuted. As Shaik has been prosecuted and convicted for his role in this transaction it would seem only just, and in the public interest, that Zuma also be tried for these crimes.

Yet the National Prosecuting Authority decided in April 2009 that the charges against Zuma should be dropped because of alleged meddling in the prosecution process. After various procedural loops were negotiated over many years by the Democratic Alliance, who brought the application to review the decision of the NPA, the North Gauteng High Court recently ruled that the decision not to prosecute Mr Zuma was irrational and should be set aside.

Political interference

Now the NPA and the president are seeking to appeal this judgment. It is of course their right to do so but whether it is the correct course of action is an altogether different issue.

Before announcing his decision on Monday the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Advocate Shaun Abrahams, went to great lengths to seek to reassure South Africans that the NPA’s hands are clean; that it will not be politically manipulated; and that it will execute its functions “without fear, favour or prejudice” and in accord with its constitutional and legal prescripts. That he had to do so is itself evidence of the wide perceptions that the NPA is and has been subject to undue political interference.

Since its inception in 1998 none of the NDPP’s has managed to finish a full 10-year term of office thereby underlining how improper political interference has permeated the NPA.

- Bulelani Ngcuka (1998 – 2004) resigned amid controversies, including stating that while there was a prima facie case against Zuma, he would not be charged with corruption.

-  Vusi Pikoli (2005 – 07) was suspended by former President Mbeki in September 2007, primarily for pursuing corruption charges against Jackie Selebi but also for the manner in which the Scorpions were investigating then Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

- Mokotedi Mpshe (2007 – 09) was appointed as Acting NDPP on Pikoli’s suspension and took the key decision in April 2009 to drop the charges against Zuma. Nevertheless Mpshe did not get the job on a permanent basis.

- He was replaced by Menzi Simelane (2009 – 2011), appointed after Zuma became President. His tenure was terminated by the Constitutional Court on the basis that the President acted irrationally in appointing him.

- Nomgcobo Jiba was the Acting NDPP for almost 18 months (2011 – 13), taking controversial decisions in relation to Crime Intelligence boss Richard Mdluli amongst others and serving to delay the ‘Spy Tapes’ case.

- Mxolisi Nxasana replaced her in September 2013 and resigned with a golden handshake in May 2015 after an enquiry into his fitness to hold office was aborted at the eleventh hour. It is widely speculated that Zuma sought to remove Nxasana because he pushed for disciplinary action to be taken against Jiba and Lawrence Mwrebi, another Deputy NDPP, and was prepared to take action against Zuma himself.

- Now Mr Abrahams occupies the hot seat.

We may not have witnessed spontaneous human combustion as Dickens famously described in Bleak House, but this saga has extinguished a few careers, and may yet consume a few more. Will that include the political career of Jacob Zuma?

- Lawson Naidoo is the Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC).

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    npa  |  schabir shaik  |  jacob zuma  |  shaun abrahams

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