Silas Ramaite and the sex tape: Dirty tricks campaign or damp squib?

Dr Silas Ramaite. (NPA website)
Dr Silas Ramaite. (NPA website)

Someone is trying to smear Silas Ramaite. But the reasons why, unlike in many current and previous battles in an often divided National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), are as clear as mud. 

City Press reported on Sunday that Ramaite was allegedly caught on tape in a compromising position with a female security guard in his office. The footage, which has allegedly been leaked, hasn't surfaced publicly.

Interviews for the position of head of the NPA kick off this week, and there are suspicions that someone wants to stop Ramaite from getting the job. But opinion is divided over what is really at play, because Ramaite is not particularly controversial. And with the interviews taking place behind closed doors and the list of interviewees having not been made public, no one knows whether Ramaite is in the running at all.

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Some say he is simply too uninteresting to have made powerful enemies, having stayed out of the fray as the NPA faced upheavals in the last few years, and that this is all an attempt by former president Jacob Zuma's allies to bully him into aligning with them.

He is known for his long and solid prosecuting career, but a drunk driving charge several years ago is a blight on his name. NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said the case was dropped after the police bungled it by mixing blood samples. But rumours still circle about why Ramaite was let off the hook, despite the state declining to prosecute, and he has not been able to shrug off the speculation.

It could count against him if he is going to be interviewed for the NPA's top job, for which he will be up against some stiff contenders. The sex tape scandal will not help, either. News24 was told that the names of former Constitutional Court Justice Kate O'Regan, and Judge President of the Gauteng High Court Division Dunstan Mlambo were put forward to President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is not clear whether they will be interviewed.

No confirmation of Ramaite's application

News24 was also told that other names put forward include Limpopo director of public prosecutions Ivy Thenga, who News24 previously reported is a front-runner, one of the deputies of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Willie Hofmeyr, Western Cape director of public prosecutions Rodney de Kock and South Gauteng director of public prosecutions Andrew Chauke.

It is not clear whether all of the people named will be interviewed, but they have been touted in legal circles as likely candidates.

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe, who is head of the panel tasked with making recommendations to the president, was unavailable for comment.

Mfaku told News24 that he did not know if Ramaite had applied for the job, but said it would be strange if "a person of that stature" was not nominated for the position by one of the industry bodies. Mfaku said Ramaite was "the most senior (candidate) in terms of qualifications and experience", and said he "should walk right into that position".

But experts, present and former colleagues take a different view.

Everyone agrees that Ramaite's academic track record is impressive. According to the NPA website, he has been a deputy NDPP since 2003, holds a doctorate in constitutional law, and studied in a variety of other fields during his academic career. He has been appointed to every office imaginable: court interpreter, clerk, prosecutor, magistrate, evidence leader at a commission of inquiry; he is an advocate and was granted senior counsel status in 2001.

Installation of cameras to be investigated

But critics say he kept his head down when major scandals, leadership issues and political agendas rocked the organisation; that he kept quiet when he should have shown leadership.

Mfaku says this is testament to his impartiality, and says "Doc" puts the institution above individuals. Mfaku also said that when Ramaite headed other specialised units in the NPA, they had "90% success rates", and that since being moved to the position of head of administration at the NPA and the office of witness protection by former NDPP Shaun Abrahams, he had no say in prosecutorial matters. He said that Ramaite had only acted in the position of NDPP twice before for short periods of time, so he could not have intervened in leadership problems or prosecutorial issues.

A senior NPA source told News24 that Ramaite is seen as not loyal enough to the NPA faction supportive of suspended deputy NDPP Nomgcobo Jiba. Jiba and Special Director of Public Prosecutions Lawrence Mrwebi were suspended by Ramaphosa in October, pending inquiries into their fitness to hold office. They apparently cannot afford an NPA head who might not be in their corner.

The source also says people in that faction would've had the means to install cameras in Ramaite's office. Mfaku confirms the NPA is investigating how cameras came to be installed in Ramaite's office.

Asked about the possible role of factions in the NPA in the Ramaite tape, Mfaku said: "I'm not aware of any factional lines. But my understanding is that he (Ramaite) is concerned with the institution, not the individual. There could be individuals who would want a particular line to be towed. It is possible, but I am not aware of it. I can assure you that he is engaging everyone – he tells everyone that it is about the interests of the country and the interests of the institution, not the individuals."

But no one has seen the tape yet. City Press reported that it had not seen or obtained the footage, and Mfaku told News24 that Ramaite had not seen it either. The first time Mfaku heard about the tape was when contacted by City Press about it, he told News24.

'Deep dysfunction at NPA'

Lawson Naidoo, director at the Centre for the Advancement of the South African Constitution said that whether or not the tape exists, the story is evidence of the "deep divisions" within the NPA and the need for a "clean-up" there.

He said it "speaks to the levels of distrust" at the NPA as highlighted in a report by retired Constitutional Court Zak Yacoob, which recommended commissions of inquiry into the state of the organisation.

"It shows that there is deep dysfunction in the NPA, and it is a very unhealthy situation," said Naidoo. This might call for an outsider to be appointed to head the NPA, he added.

Phephelaphi Dube, director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said while Ramaite is a career prosecutor he has not really distinguished himself.

"Even when he's been acting (as NDPP) he hasn't done anything outstanding. He hasn't proven himself as someone who can steer the NPA in the right direction. He didn't take any steps to ensure that the issues around Jiba, etc, were looked into. It seems he was simply there to fill the chair, and he failed to raise his head above the parapet," said Dube.

She added that it would be good to see a woman appointed as NDPP.

Suspicious timing

Former top prosecutor turned DA spokesperson on justice Glynnis Breytenbach said Ramaite "sat and watched" while people like Jiba and Shaun Abrahams "eviscerated the prosecuting authority", while he was deputy NDPP.

"He said not a word. He did nothing to defend the rule of law in this country. He did nothing to ensure the NPA was run independently as he should be," said Breytenbach.

However, she said it was "disgraceful" that people were spying on each other at the NPA, and said that if the tape exists, it is an invasion of his privacy that should be prosecuted. She said that the "timing (of the alleged tape) is a little off".

Although Ramaite was not a "realistic candidate", Breytenbach said the alleged tape seems to be part of a "dirty tricks campaign".

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