Zuma seen moving fast on NPA

2009-11-24 17:05

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma is expected to move fast to appoint a new national prosecutions chief, analysts said on Tuesday.

They also said he is like to pick somebody not associated either with his inner court or his long battle with the law.

Centre for Policy Studies senior researcher Aubrey Matshiqi said Zuma is likely to make "a strong choice" in a bid to send a reassuring message about the rule of law.

"The thing you must remember about Zuma is that he's responding to scepticism about his ability to govern a modern state and a modern economy.

"There is an aspect that is not about the party but about him and his legacy. He will want to send a very strategic message about the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary."

Already made decision

Matshiqi said he had "no idea" who would prove an ideal candidate for job, which will include the considerable task of restoring the integrity of the NPA after its questionable handling of Zuma's corruption case.

He said it was likely Zuma had already decided who he wants to succeed Vusi Pikoli by the time he reached a R7.5m out of court settlement with the axed prosecutions chief at the weekend, ending his court bid to be reinstated.

"Pragmatically, he (Zuma) needed to pave the way to appoint a new NPA head. Also it would suggest that he has already made up his mind."

Professor Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, also expected Zuma to move at some speed, partly to lend impetus to his anti-corruption drive.

Inner circle appointments

He said the president was hardly spoilt for choice when it came to finding somebody that had both a lot of "public relations and political nous" and the right legal background to put the NPA on a strong footing. He said in his first year as president, Zuma has displayed two tendencies when filling high level posts.

With posts in the police, defence and intelligence he has appointed people from his inner circle - like national police commissioner Bheki Cele and Secret Service boss Mo Schaik.

But on the economy he has sought to strive a balance with appointments that appeal to multiple interest groups, such as new Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus.

"The question is what strategy is he going to follow with the NPA."

Habib said the three rumoured potential candidates all carried the risk of being seen as too close to Zuma or linked to his corruption case, which was withdrawn on the eve of the April elections.

"Ngoako Ramatlhodi (the chairperson of Parliament's portfolio committee on justice and a member of the Judicial Services Council) is an inner circle man."

A second name which has been bandied about for months is that of Muzi Mkhize, a member of Zuma's legal team, which "would raise questions".

Both Matshiqi and Habib thought another rumoured candidate, deputy NPA director and head of its Asset Forfeiture Unit, Willie Hofmeyr, had the experience to do the job, but may be overlooked because of his high-profile role in the resolution of the Zuma case.

"He will want to avoid appointing somebody tarnished by the shenanigans around his corruption matter.

I'm not suggesting Willie Hofmeyr was involved in shenanigans, but he will want somebody who has a distance between himself or herself and the matter."

Said Habib: "He is seen as having sided with Zuma in that conflict."

ANC members consulted?

Democratic Alliance spokesperson on justice Dene Smuts said she believed "one could do worse than Willie", but worried about the implications of appointing a man seen to have masterminded the negotiations between the NPA and Zuma that got him off the hook.

Smuts said she hoped the strong denial from the ANC that party leaders were consulted about what it meant to be a purely executive appointment was true.

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu rejected "with contempt" reports that Zuma raised the matter with party top brass at Luthuli House on Monday.

Analysts said they were not surprised that Pikoli's uncompromising battle to clear his reputation and be reinstated ended in a settlement, as it was hard for individuals to take on the state with its limitless resources in long-running court battles.

The instructing attorney in the case, Aslam Moosajee from Deneys Reitz, pointed out that though the state paid Pikoli's legal fees he remained at risk of costs.

This meant if he lost a case that would likely have gone as far as the Constitutional Court, he would have to pay back every cent.