24 July 2024 | 04:49 AM

Zuma halts NPA changes

Key Takeaways

In a major public rebuke, President Jacob Zuma has told his prosecutions boss, Menzi Simelane, to stop his controversial restructuring of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Simelane ignored a similar instruction from Jeff Radebe, the justice minister, two weeks ago and said he was going ahead to disband the NPA’s specialised units.

Zuma told Parliament on Thursday that the Cabinet’s justice and security cluster was still working on a “delivery agreement” and that all changes at the NPA had been deferred “pending the finalisation of what the cluster must first conclude”.

Zuma responded to questions from DA MP Dene Smuts.

“Let me assure the Honourable Smuts that we will put the interests of the country and the Constitution first in going about this very important task of ensuring that justice is dispensed fairly, impartially and effectively,” Zuma said during his reply in the Presidency budget vote debate.

The rebuke is a serious setback for Simelane whose fitness for office has already been challenged.

Last week the Mail & Guardian revealed that Simelane was going ahead with restructuring the specialised units, including the highly successful serious commercial crimes unit (SCCU), despite Radebe telling him to back off.

On Thursday it appeared that Simelane’s changes were being reversed — SCCU prosecutors were told they should once again report to the unit’s head, Chris Jordaan, and not to the regional directors of public prosecutions, as Simelane had wanted.

Smuts said Simelane’s decision to disband the unit had been reversed after she had raised the matter in Zuma’s budget vote debate on Wednesday.

Investigation

Meanwhile, the Johannesburg Bar Council is investigating Simelane’s testimony to the Ginwala Inquiry to see whether it rendered him unfit to be an advocate, and the DA is challenging his appointment by Zuma in court.

These moves are exacerbated by revelations that Simelane personally instructed the removal of the prosecutors in the Brett Kebble murder case and lied to the M&G when he denied it last week. This is clear from a letter written by him and leaked to the M&G.

Last week Simelane’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, told amaBhungane that advocate Gladstone Maema, Gauteng’s acting deputy director of public prosecutions, took the “strategic decision” to remove state advocate Gerrie Nel and his team from the Kebble and Mulangi Mphego cases.

Mphego, the police’s former head of crime intelligence, was charged with defeating the ends of justice but the Randburg Magistrate’s Court threw the case out of court this week.

Mhaga said that Maema had decided two months ago to replace the Nel prosecuting team in both cases. But the letter written by Simelane to Maema on March 20, and signed three days later, contradicts Mhaga’s claim made on Simelane’s behalf.

Simelane writes: “I have noted that you have made very little progress in dealing with the above matters [the prosecutors for the Glenn Agliotti and Mphego cases]. You will recall that I instructed that new [sic] prosecuting team be appointed. To date I have not been advised of the new team.

“As you are aware, these matters are already in court and a new team will have to be briefed on both matters urgently so that it can be equipped to handle the cases. The delay is naturally very regrettable.”

Simelane tells Maema that he has “personally” decided to appoint state advocates Dan Dakana, Lethabo Mashiane and Kholeka Gcaleka to prosecute Agliotti and Mphego.

Drug dealer Agliotti is the sole accused in the Kebble murder case, due to start in the South Gauteng High Court on July 26.

But Simelane said this week that he had not lied, but “felt it unnecessary to spell out that it was a decision taken with the direction and guidance of the national director [Simelane] and a decision which the director of public prosecutions South Gauteng [Maema] agreed with and supported”.

Interventions

Replying to the M&G‘s questions, Mhaga said the decision to replace Nel and his team was taken “with the direction, guidance and advice” of Simelane. This does not explain Simelane’s use of the word “instructed” in his letter to Maema. Also, his claim is not supported by Maema’s affidavit in the Mphego trial and a letter by Dakana, in which they both state that Simelane assigned a new team to the Agliotti and Mphego cases.

This is the third time that Simelane has personally intervened in criminal prosecutions:

  • In March he ordered the asset forfeiture unit not to pursue an attempt to freeze millions of rands held in Lichtenstein by arms-deal kingpin Fana Hlongwane; and
  • In April Simelane admitted to interfering in the bail application of hip-hop artist Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye, charged with killing four schoolboys in a car accident in Soweto.

This week Simelane’s instruction to Maema to remove Nel and his team from the Mphego matter had a sequel — the magistrate, Fatima Khan, struck the matter off the roll on the grounds that the state was dragging its feet.

Mhaga said that the new prosecuting team realised that the police had to conduct further investigations. When it informed the defence about its application for a further postponement, “the defence then decided to oppose this application. The papers could not be drafted in a rush due to the seriousness of the matter. The new team needed more time.”

Mhaga said Maema would decide whether to re-enrol the Mphego case when the police investigations were finalised.

This story was produced by amaBhungane, the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism. www.amabhungane.co.za.

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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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