Ralph Mathekga

Ramaphosa just washed his hands of the corrupt politically connected

2018-12-10 08:24
Advocate Shamila Batohi moments after being announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa to be the new NDPP head. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

Advocate Shamila Batohi moments after being announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa to be the new NDPP head. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

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When confronted with the common political dilemma of having to consider pleas from the politically connected, Ramaphosa has washed his hands by appointing the most likely independent prosecutor in recent history, writes Ralph Mathekga.

President Ramaphosa's decision to appoint advocate Shamila Batohi as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) is a thing of unconventional wisdom.

Having had only a stint at the prosecution authority as a prosecutor during the prosecution of the late cricket icon Hansie Cronje, Batohi is not an insider at the NPA (National Prosecution Authority).

However, Batohi must have been a keen observer of the shenanigans that have engulfed the NPA in the last decade and must be fully aware of the extent to which the prosecution authority has been politicised, as cases with deep political implications continue to pile up for prosecution consideration.

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What has happened at the NPA in the past decade is nothing short of extraordinary. It is not often that one president bungles the appointment of the head of the prosecution authority three times consecutively.

Firstly, it was Jacob Zuma's appointment of Menzi Simelane that the court found to have been irrational and invalid due to Simelane's lack of fitness to occupy that office. Zuma then appointed Mxolisi Nxasana to lead the NPA.

Even stranger is that Zuma pushed Nxasana to accept a golden handshake and leave office before his contract came to an end, paving the way for Zuma to appoint Shaun Abrahams as the head of the NPA. The story got even more bizarre when the court decided that Nxasana's removal was illegal, which nullified the appointment of Shaun Abrahams. 

The appointment of Batohi brings to an end the era of unchecked executive indulgence when it comes to appointing the top prosecutor in the country.

Ramaphosa opted to follow a never before seen process in appointing Batohi. He appointed a 'task-team', his preferred method of decision making when confronted with tough issues to deal with. Batohi was appointed outside the conventional ANC deployment process where trusted cadres are recommended to take up key positions in society and government because they can be trusted to further the political mandate held by the party.

READ: Shamila Batohi gets the hardest job in the republic

In appointing Batohi, Ramaphosa effectively side-lined the ANC and sought advice from a non-partisan committee constituted solely for making this appointment. In this manner, he was able to allow for the emergence of the prosecutor who would not be obliged to return favours to the party when making decisions as to which cases to prosecute.

Batohi does not come with a burden from the ANC or any party. This is significant in a situation where some senior members of the party might face prosecution following state capture enquiry underway. In addition to state capture, ANC leaders are generally under siege due to allegations of corruptions at various spheres of government. 

If Batohi starts making unpopular decisions such as going after the powerful and connected, it will be very difficult for those who are implicated to call in favours with the president and ask for that "representation" as a way to stay off prosecution. When confronted with the common political dilemma of having to consider pleas from the politically connected, Ramaphosa has washed his hands by appointing the most likely independent prosecutor in recent history.

Batohi has her work cut out for her, including having to lead a team that is comprised of both willing men and women on one side, and potential mutineers on the other side. It will be naïve to conclude that the problem with the NPA is limited to leadership. There is no doubt that Zuma singlehandedly destroyed the meaning of leadership in that institution.

However, the rot would have certainly spread below leadership level; even within some quarters of management level. An internal clean up and reorientation plan is required at the NPA.

For Batohi's Project Clean Up to gain grounds, she must enjoy protection from political hacks who have mastered the art of delegitimising state institutions responsible for meting out justice.

As for those comrades who are accustomed to political protection, Pontius Ramaphosa has washed his hands of the obligation to protect anyone from prosecution. Without political support and willingness to defend the independence of the office, Batohi's work will amount to nothing more than managing a crisis.      

- Ralph Mathekga is a senior researcher at the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) at the University of the Western Cape. He is author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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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