Mandy Wiener

Sunshine is the best antiseptic – NDPP interviews an inquiry into NPA capture

2018-11-18 08:00
Advocate Andrea Johnson is seen in the High Court. (Herman Verwey, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

Advocate Andrea Johnson is seen in the High Court. (Herman Verwey, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

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Over three days of gruelling interviews of candidates to run the NPA, the process seemed more like an inquiry into the state of the prosecuting authority than an interview for a director, writes Mandy Wiener.

When Simphiwe Mlotshwa held up a pile of battered black and red Croxley notebooks with yellow labels sticking out during his interview for the position of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) on Friday, it was clear he had come to drop files. 

The notebooks, he revealed ominously, contained all the records of his term in office. During his interview for the position of national director of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), he detailed how he came under immense political pressure.

The former KwaZulu-Natal director of public prosecutions explained how he was summoned to the NPA headquarters where then acting NDPP Nomgcobo Jiba and special director Lawrence Mrwebi attempted to force him to withdraw charges against political heavyweights in the so-called 'Amigos' case. Mlotshwa spoke about how for a period he had bodyguards and received threatening phone calls.

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Over three days of gruelling interviews of candidates to run the prosecuting authority this week, the process seemed more like an inquiry into the state of the NPA than an interview for a director. The panel asked questions about factions, infighting, paralysing disfunction, political interference and pressure from superiors. They were desperate for insight into the internal machinations of a crucial organisation that, by all accounts, has been captured over the past few years.

Some candidates obfuscated, others were euphemistic or diplomatic about events. But many were downright blatant and honest about the sheer scale of the shenanigans that have been underway at the VGM building in Silverton, the NPA's headquarters.

During his interview, which was more like testimony at an inquiry, Mlotshwa remarked that he believed that "sunshine is the greatest disinfectant". This is precisely what the panel seemed intent on achieving – a laying bare for all to see, a kind of cathartic TRC of the NPA for all those who were ostracised.

It was the first real opportunity for this to happen after multiple court cases maligned the leadership of the NPA and called into question their integrity and credibility. It was a pulling back of the dressing to reveal the festering wound within and the hope may have been that with it all out in the open, the process would serve as a balm and at least allow the incoming NDPP an opportunity to correct it all.

Advocate Andrea Johnson gave a vivid description of just how bad things have been at the NPA. "Even if you appoint the pope as the NDPP, it won't be enough. That office will chew the pope up and spit him out alive, that's how bad the situation is," she told the panel. "We didn't need other people to interfere… our management did it very nicely," she remarked sarcastically.

Advocate Shamila Batohi described the prosecuting authority as "a mess", saying that "the house is on fire".

Advocate Andrew Chauke argued that the factionalism he was asked of was only evident at the top echelons of the NPA. "Those factions, as I see them, are between the deputy national directors of public prosecutions. They don't see things the same. There are those who are seen to be on this side and those who are seen to be on this other side," he said.

It seemed almost appropriate that Silas Ramaite, currently acting as NDPP and one of the most senior members of the NPA leadership during the period of instability, was oblivious to any of this and said there was no crisis.  "I am not personally aware of any interference," he told the panel. The only periods of instability there had been were when previous NDPPs had left the organisation.

But it was the specifics from Mlotshwa that the panel was after. The practical example of how a prosecutor had been interfered with in a high profile, politically sensitive case. They got that when he raised his Croxley notebooks and uttered the names of Jiba, Mrwebi, Ramaite and Moipone Noko.

If this week's 'testimony' is anything to go by, there must be countless other prosecutors like Mlotshwa who have come under immense pressure for political reasons. Each of them should have an opportunity to take the country into their confidence and share their personal ordeals.

With the cameras rolling, they should each be offered the opportunity to let us see into their own notebooks and the records they kept of how they were bullied and interfered with as the doctrine of prosecutorial independence was compromised. As we saw this week, sunshine is after all the best antiseptic.

- Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.

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  |  lawrence mrwebi  |  simphiwe mlotshwa  |  nomgcobo ­jiba  |  ndpp


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