Breytenbach: If you're right, you're right

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Glynnis Breytenbach (Netwerk24)
Glynnis Breytenbach (Netwerk24)

Former senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach remembers it like it was yesterday. 

"Lawrence Mrwebi [former Special Director of Public Prosecutions] sat at his desk and stretched out his little, skinny arms and folded them behind his head and said to us: 'Colleagues, I presume you are here to test my powers'," Breytenbach recalls.

The meeting concerned Mrwebi's decision to withdraw the charges against former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli. Breytenbach at the time was part of the prosecuting team who thought Mrwebi was making a mistake. The fightback would nearly cost Breytenbach her job.

It was a critical moment in the battle for control of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which is also detailed in the Mokgoro Enquiry report, released this week. The Mokgoro report backs up Breytenbach's version of events, with the exception of the reference to Mrwebi's "little, skinny arms". 

In the report, retired justice Yvonne Mokgoro declared that deputy prosecutions head Nomgcobo Jiba, and head of specialised commercial crimes unit (SCCU) Mrwebi were unfit to hold their respective offices.

Both have now been dismissed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Looking back at her time at the NPA, Breytenbach says she found herself in the thick of a triple threat attack on the NPA by Menzi Simelane, Jiba and Mrwebi.

Reflecting on the toxic environment described so well in the Mokgoro report, Breytenbach still manages a hearty laugh. "The leadership ability of Jiba and Mrwebi put together couldn't fill the bottom of thimble," she tells News24.

Back to the beginning

While Jiba and Mrwebi were the focus of the Mokgoro report, Breytenbach says she should have walked out as soon as Simelane was appointed national director of public prosecutions in 2009.

"When Simelane came to the NPA, in one of the first speeches he made, he said he was there to implement the policies of the ruling party… on that day I should have resigned," says Breytenbach.

"It went downhill from there, he interfered in prosecution authority, he interfered in existing pockets of excellence, [and] he initiated the dismantling of the specialised commercial crimes unit."

Simelane was adamant on restructuring the NPA, including initiating processes to dismantle the SCCU.

"We fought very hard against it, but the national director has a lot of power with regards to the setup of the NPA, and rightly so," says Breytenbach.

When his appointment was later declared invalid by the constitutional court two years later, Jiba was appointed acting head of the NPA. However, nothing changed.

"Between [Simelane] and Nomgcobo Jiba, they should really pat themselves on the back," says Breytenbach. "They set out to decimate the capacity of the NPA and they did a damn good job."

The 'conniving' two

With the sharp tongue Breytenbach is so famous for, she explains the tyranny of Jiba and Mrwebi: "They were dictatorial, they were underhand, they were less than honest, they connived, and they interfered on every level with the prosecutorial independence that is guaranteed in the Constitution".

In November 2011, Breytenbach was told in a meeting that there was a complaint against her regarding a case she was working on. She would only later find out that the complaint was made by Ronald Mendelow on behalf of Imperial Crown Trading (ICT) in a mining rights case against Kumba Iron Ore.

The NPA did not take this complaint further until she got involved in the case of former Crime Intelligence boss, Richard Mdluli.

Not long after Mrwebi's appointment as Special Director of Public Prosecutions, he started pushing Breytenbach to drop the criminal charges against Mdluli.  Breytenbach refused.

Mdluli faced charges of fraud, theft and corruption for unlawfully using the Secret Service Account for his and his wife's personal benefit.

As a result, Breytenbach and the North Gauteng Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Sibongile Mzinyathi approached Mrwebi to express their disagreement with dropping the charges against Mdluli.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," she adds, "because he did not have the power to withdraw the matter, he had to have consensus with Sibongile before he could withdraw it and he hadn't even discussed it with Sibongile."

At the meeting, Mrwebi told the two that he had already sent a letter to the lawyers telling them the matter had been withdrawn. This, Breytenbach says, tied their hands and they agreed to provisionally withdraw the charges and push back at a later stage.

This retaliation never happened, however, as Breytenbach was suspended shortly thereafter.

"When I came back they didn't send me back to my office, they said there were a lot of other complaints they wanted to investigate now.

"So they sent me to the DPP's office where I did no work for a year. The idea was that I would spend the next ten years sitting there, earning a fat salary doing nothing because then I couldn't harm them," says Breytenbach. As a result, she left the NPA for Parliament.

With the release of Mokgoro report, Breytenbach says she feels vindicated. "Jiba and Mrwebi destroyed the NPA and I could have walked away.

"The reason I fought the disciplinary was to show other people in the NPA that you can take them on and win, they don't have the power to destroy you. If you're right, you're f*cking right."

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