Next NPA head must be unsullied

Shaun Abrahams.
Shaun Abrahams.

All eyes were on the Constitutional Court yesterday as it ruled on the lawfulness or otherwise of the appointment of the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams to the post by ex-president Jacob Zuma.

The highest court in the land ruled that Abrahams must step down as head of the National Prosecuting Authority as he had benefited from Zuma's abuse of power.

Zuma had awarded Abraham's predecessor Mxolisi Nxasana a golden handshake of R17.3-million in a move Nxasana believes was made to ensure that the former president escaped prosecution.

The ConCourt has ordered Nxasana to pay back some of the money but added that he was in no position to return to the post since he may face an inquiry into his fitness to hold office, stemming from his acceptance of the golden handshake. President Cyril Ramaphosa now has 90 days to find a replacement for Abrahams.

It presents the president with an opportunity to do what's right by the NPA. Politicians, specifically Ramaphosa's forerunners Thabo Mbeki and Zuma, have failed to guard the temptation to interfere in a structure envisaged to be above politics so as to ensure it acts without fear or favour.

Mbeki infamously tried to prevent former NDPP Vusi Pikoli's prosecution of then police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who was eventually convicted of fraud and served time in jail.

That the NPA under Pikoli withstood the pressure was admirable. It is that kind of NPA this country needs, not the feeble, weak-kneed incarnation into which Abrahams fashioned it. It is telling that the conviction of Selebi in 2010 remains the only high-profile case against a political heavyweight since, despite rampant malfeasance.

That a former president in the form of Zuma now stands trial is thanks to civil society efforts to see justice served, rather than the will of Abrahams's NPA.

Ramaphosa seems to be on the right track, given his move to set into motion the suspension of controversial NPA figures advocates Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, who stand accused of gross misconduct.

We urge him to follow through with the appointment of a figure beyond reproach as NPA head and to cement that by not sticking his nose where it's clearly not needed.

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