18 May 2024 | 06:59 PM

Editorial: Grasp the nettle of fear

Key Takeaways

In a call to action following a brutal house robbery, economist Dawie Roodt wrote in an open letter this week: “I can see how this country is slowly deteriorating, how our institutions are held in contempt, with only a few left standing intact.”

Nowhere is this contempt more visible and more damaging than in President Jacob Zuma’s attitude towards the National Prosecuting Authority, which serves as the foundation stone of the state’s commitment to justice and the rule of law. His contempt is glaring in his decisions about the most senior and influential positions within the NPA, most notably that of the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP).

First there was the decision to appoint the lamentable but pliable Menzi Simelane, despite his coming under severe criticism from the Ginwala inquiry for his lack of candour. That appointment was overturned by the Constitutional Court, which found the president had to appoint someone who objectively met the standards of a “fit and proper person”. The president, the court ruled, could not simply do as he pleased.

But that is exactly what Zuma has done, again and again. To act in Simelane’s stead, he appointed Nomgcobo Jiba, someone Zuma clearly regarded as loyal to him personally. This was despite Jiba’s history of launching an attack on her own institution, the NPA, where she worked, backed by the shadowy figure of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, another public servant whose loyalty to Zuma seems to be his most important recommendation. Jiba was only dislodged following another court action to compel the president to appoint a permanent NDPP.

Enter Mxolisi Nxasana, who immediately rang executive alarm bells by sidelining Jiba. The campaign to rein in or remove him began there. There were leaks about his past and his failure to secure a security clearance. Zuma announced an inquiry into his fitness to hold office, then left the matter hanging for months. When it was clear that the president had misjudged his appointee, the inquiry was again set in motion.

Then, when it became obvious that the case against Nxasana was flimsy and would backfire, Zuma pulled the plug on the inquiry just hours before it was due to open. Instead he reached an agreement to pay Nxasana R17 357 233 to make him go away.

In his place, without any public process, Zuma then appointed Shaun Abrahams, whom critics labelled a Jiba acolyte, a charge he strenuously denied.

On Sunday, the City Press newspaper reported that Abrahams had taken a raft of prosecution decisions on cases that appear highly charged politically – and that, if correctly reported, would reset the NPA’s course in Zuma’s favour again.

*This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Mail & Guardian.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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