President Cyril Ramaphosa has decided to suspend senior Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and Special Director of Public Prosecutions Lawrence Mrwebi.
He has also announced his decision to institute enquiries into their fitness to hold office. Earlier this year, Ramaphosa had invited both Jiba and Mrwebi to give him reasons why they should not be suspended pending the enquiry.
In letters to Advocates Jiba and Mrwebi, Ramaphosa said: "I have taken into account the serious nature of allegations that you are unfit to be in so high an office, where the work of our criminal justice system is central to the critical and pressing matter of all prosecutions, especially prosecution of corruption cases and safeguard of our public purse. You hold a senior position with influence over a large swathe of the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority]. It is in the interest of the NPA's image as a whole that I consider here, and of the integrity of an enquiry that must result in the clearest and most convincing conclusions about the integrity, and sound leadership of the NPA."
Why are these suspensions important?
The NPA has been badly scarred by years of political infighting and factionalism and Jiba and Mrwebi have been central characters in this drama. They are seen as being part of a grouping that had been in favour of President Jacob Zuma and were working to protect influential individuals, particularly former head of Crime Intelligence Richard Mdluli.
Ex-prosecutor and current DA shadow minister of justice Glynnis Breytenbach accused them of forcing her out of the NPA and suspending her after she persisted with the fraud and corruption prosecution of Mdluli.
Civic rights organisation Freedom Under Law went to court last year and won an order, compelling the president to institute inquiries against both Jiba and Mrwebi. This was after several court rulings had made damning findings against them – that they had lied, brought the legal profession into disrepute and that they were not fit nor proper to do their jobs.
In the Mdluli matter, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found that Jiba and Mrwebi were wrong to overrule Breytenbach and withdraw the charges against the top cop. The SCA also criticised Jiba for failing to hand over the infamous "spy tapes" to the DA, when the party wanted them to challenge the decision to withdraw charges against Zuma.
Perhaps the most critical ruling was by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban, which found that Jiba had made a decision to prosecute ex-Hawks boss Johan Booysen based on a signed document that did not yet exist. She briefly faced perjury charges in relation to this.
The announcement that they are being suspended brings some semblance of finality to a process that has been dragging on for far too long. The NPA and its leadership have been in limbo as the president considered the representations around whether or not to suspend them. It was unclear why it was taking him so long to act, but now he finally has.
Is this finally a clean-up of the NPA?
Ramaphosa has been under pressure to restore the credibility and integrity of the NPA. There's little doubt that public perception of the organisation is that its leadership was largely captured over the Zuma years and that it was eviscerated over time, with many good, competent prosecutors leaving the organisation.
There have also been significant questions around high-level corruption and commercial crime prosecutions and whether the NPA has the capacity to successfully deal with these cases involving state capture.
Ramaphosa clearly states in his letter to Jiba and Mrwebi that he is concerned about the integrity and image of the organisation. The president needs to be seen to be getting rid of the "cabal" who are aligned to Zuma and have compromised the credibility of the NPA.
The removal of former NPA boss Shaun Abrahams, who earned the moniker of "Shaun the Sheep" from a dissatisfied and disillusioned public, was the first step in doing this. The Constitutional Court found that his appointment was invalid. Crucially, the president did not oppose the legal action brought by former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana, which led to Abrahams' removal. This gave a clear indication that he wanted Abrahams gone and a new NDPP to take over.
Ramaphosa has now appointed a consultative panel to manage the process of appointing a new national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) – it is an unprecedented step and shows just how important he considers the independence and integrity of the next appointment.
Suspending Jiba and Mrwebi is another big step towards restoring public faith in an institution which must be seen to act without fear or favour or with any kind of prejudice or political motive.
What about the process to have them struck as advocates?
There's a court process happening in parallel to these inquiries that have now been established by the president. Former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana had asked the General Council of the Bar (GCB) to go to court to have both Jiba and Mrwebi struck off the roll of advocates. Judge Francis Legodi was scathing of Jiba in particular, finding that she was "reckless" and had "ulterior motives".
But his decision was taken on review and in a split decision which surprised many legal commentators, the SCA found that it had failed to establish that Jiba was guilty of misconduct. The GCB is now seeking to challenge that judgment.