Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Abrahams a 'lighty' next to judges who say Zuma must be prosecuted

2017-12-01 10:51
Shaun Abrahams (Nico Gous, Netwerk24)

Shaun Abrahams (Nico Gous, Netwerk24)

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Shaun Abrahams, the timid head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), has taken two decisions since the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that failing to prosecute President Jacob Zuma for corruption was irrational. 

The first decision was to allow Zuma to make fresh representations on why he should not be charged. The deadline to submit this was on November 30th. On the same date, Abrahams made another decision; the second, to assemble a team of senior prosecutors to advise him on the way forward. 

There are two possible reasons Abrahams has for taking these decisions. The first, is that he is buying time to execute a decision he already has in mind. This means allowing Zuma to vacate the office that gives him political power – the presidency of the ANC – in the next two weeks, before he charges him. 

The second, possible reason is that he does not want to prosecute Zuma. But he wants a way to avoid taking responsibility for it if the majority in the panel he has assembled decides against prosecution. 

The difficulty for Abrahams, though, is that regardless of how many people he seeks advice from, the prosecutorial policy of the NPA leaves it to him to make the final, rational decision. And his decision cannot be in violation of the decisions of two courts – the High Court and the SCA. 

In total, eight judges have concluded that Zuma should be prosecuted. Individually and collectively, all the judges are far more experienced in the law than Abrahams. 

One thing he needs to keep at the back of his mind is that he is essentially a "lighty" relative to the judges. Not in terms of their elevated positions as judges who write our jurisprudence within which Abrahams himself operates, but also in terms of experience and training in the law. 

A snap review of his background and that of the judges might help us understand what Abrahams is up against.

Shaun Abrahams: He who must charge Zuma

Abrahams was appointed prosecutions boss in June 2015, taking over from Mxolisi Nxasana, who left under controversial circumstances. Nxasana says he was pushed out by Zuma who feared that he might reinstate the charges. 

Abrahams’s career kicked off in 1994 when he worked as an administrative clerk in the Department of Justice. He was admitted as an advocate in 2002. Before he was appointed head of the NPA, he held the position of acting special director in the priority crime litigation unit of the NPA. Abrahams’s experience pales into insignificance when compared with the judges who ruled that the charges against Zuma must be reinstated.

SCA bench that confirmed High Court decision that charges against Zuma must be reinstated

Judge Mahomed Navsa

Navsa became senior counsel in 1994 – just as Abrahams was starting out as a clerk. He practiced as an advocate from the early 1908s until the early 1990s at the Legal Resources Centre, founded by former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson. The LRC earned a reputation as an institution that used the litigation to break down key apartheid laws. Before he was appointed to the SCA, he served as a High Court judge from 1995, where he was also a member of the Special Electoral Court until 2005. He has also chaired the Legal Aid Board.

Judge Azhar Cachalia

Cachalia was an executive member of the Transvaal Indian Congress in the 1980s and one of the founders of the United Democratic Front. From 1986 to 1995 he was a partner of Cheadle Thompson and Haysom Attorneys. He served as judge of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg until he was appointed to the SCA in 2005.

Judge Lebotsang "Ronnie" Bosielo

Bosielo began his career as a candidate attorney in 1984. In 1987 he became a partner at Bosielo, Motlante & Lekabe. In 1992 he established his own law firm, Ronnie Bosielo Attorneys. He practiced as an advocate from 1999 to 2001, when he was appointed judge of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. He has also acted as a judge in Namibia. In October 2009 he was appointed to the SCA. 

Judge Lorimer Eric Leach

Leach began his career as an advocate in Pretoria from 1976 to 1990 and he became senior counsel for the NPA from 1990 until 1993.  He was appointed judge of the High Court in the Eastern Cape from 1993 to 2008. He began as an acting judge in the SCA in 2008 before he took the permanent appointment. 

Judge Zukisa Tshiqi

Tshiqi became a litigation officer for the Black Lawyers Association from 1992 to 1994. In 1994 she co-founded Tshiqi-Zebediela Incorporated where she was managing partner until 2005. She began acting as a judge of the High Court in 2003. She also acted at the Labour Appeal Court and Competition Appeal Court. In 2005, she was appointed judge of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. In 2009, she was appointed to the SCA. 

High Court in Pretoria – the bench that rule Zuma must the face charges

Judge Aubrey Ledwaba

Ledwaba was admitted as an attorney in 1986 and practiced until he was appointed as a judge. He had been a magistrate before and was elevated to the Bench. He also served as a member of the Magistrate's Commission and Council of the Law Society.

Judge Cynthia Pretorius

Pretorius became the first woman prosecutor in Pretoria in 1970. In 1974 she was appointed as a magistrate. She was an advocate at the Pretoria bar from 1994 to 2006. She was appointed as acting judge in the SCA from 2003 until her position was made permanent in 2006. She has served on the Judicial Services Commission’s judicial conduct committee since 2011. 

Judge Billy Mothle

Mothle was a founding member of Lawyers for Human Rights, where he worked on contract from December 1988 to December 2000. Between 1991 and 1994 he was appointed head of the International Organisation for Migration which is based in Geneva. Prior to his appointment to the Bench, he was chairman of the Pretoria Branch of Advocates for Transformation from 2003 and 2007. 

- Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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.

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