Redi Tlhabi

As Shamila Batohi takes office, the nation gives a collective sigh of relief

2019-02-03 08:54
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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Every outrageous revelation at every inquiry, is confirmation that Shaun Abrahams was never on South Africa's side. As Shamila Batohi wades through files ripe for prosecution, we wish her a successful term, writes Redi Tlhabi.

Forgive us if we are excited about the arrival of Shamila Batohi at the offices of the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP).

Advocate Batohi is our new NDPP and boy, does she have some rogues to put in the dock!

Where to start, I wonder? My excitement is not a result of some naivete or idealism. It is also not a belief that she possesses some superpowers and is thus infallible. Rather, it is a deep sense of relief, coupled with a fervent prayer that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will never sink as low as it sunk under former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams and the man who appointed him.

Our nationhood is so battered that we have come to grab even the tiniest moments of respite. Batohi's arrival is one such moment. Hers is a massive job, requiring valour and the ability to stare down abusive power.

READ: 10 top priorities in new NDPP Shamila Batohi's inbox

Apart from the obvious legal expertise, the job requires a love of country and a commitment to our constitutional truths. Batohi will have to navigate her way around some political landmines, some of which have already exploded, ripping our democratic edifice and morality to shreds.

We are wounded and those who inflicted these deep wounds carry on, daily, displaying extreme arrogance and impunity. We look to Batohi and her team to rein them in.

Her legal pedigree is impressive, and it is of great comfort that she is no stranger to the NPA, having served as the director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal. She has also served as the first regional head of the directorate of special operations in the same province. 

She is unlikely to be overwhelmed by sleazy, powerful people. Furthermore, her tenure as senior legal advisor at the International Criminal Court, will hold the organisation in good stead as it tackles international crime syndicates, some of which have flourished on South African soil.

It feels like another lifetime, when former prosecutions head Shaun Abrahams asserted his ill-gotten authority by announcing the prosecution of then finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former Sars bosses, Oupa Magashula and Ivan Pillay.

Shaun, "affectionately" known as Shaun the Sheep, could not have known that his solemn pledge, "The days of disrespecting decisions of the National Prosecuting Authority are over," would induce merriment.

Without a whiff of irony, he vehemently declared, "The days of non-accountability and not holding senior government officials accountable, are over." That was in October 2016 and even then, it was crystal clear that there was no NPA to respect.

We saw and knew even then, that a dirty political game was being played yet again and the NPA, under Abrahams, was determined to help unscrupulous politicians retain their grubby hands on power and state resources.

The avalanche of revelations from multiple commissions of inquiry into state capture, the NPA, Sars, the PIC, have confirmed that the NPA was in a self-induced coma and was making no decisions at all, not even ones we could disrespect. 

Turning a blind eye in the face of traceable and accessible evidence ensured that there was no accountability by senior government officials and their powerful friends in business. Shaun the Sheep had clearly lectured and warned the wrong people.

We were rescued from the hapless prosecutor by the Constitutional Court last year, which found his appointment by former president Jacob Zuma to be invalid and unconstitutional. Whilst Zuma typically giggles at the apex court's blistering findings against him, the prosecutor who had risen through the ranks of the NPA, will have to live with the knowledge that he has irrevocably sullied his name.

Every outrageous revelation at every inquiry, is confirmation that Abrahams was never on South Africa's side. His decision that Zuma will finally face criminal charges was too little, too late. Zuma had vacated office by then and Shaun had nothing to lose, not even his dignity. He had long handed it over to the former president, on a silver platter.

We have become inured to the abuse of power and violations of our laws. Our sense of right and wrong needs urgent restoration. It is thus an indisputable fact that the NPA is the conduit to justice. May we never know such greed and depravity again.

So, as Batohi wades through copious amounts of files, containing cold cases and others ripe for prosecution, we wish her a successful term. South Africa needs it.

- Redi Tlhabi is an award-winning author, journalist and talkshow host.

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