Civil society groups will head to court on Thursday in a bid to force President Jacob Zuma to follow the law, and do what he refuses to do — remove the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), Shaun Abrahams. This is according to retired Judge Johann Kriegler.
A feisty Kriegler, now chair of Freedom Under Law, said all South Africans had a stake in the court proceedings on Thursday, when a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court would hear arguments on why Zuma should suspend Abrahams, and two of his colleagues.
Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation will argue that Abrahams, along with subordinates Torie Pretorius and Sibongile Mzinyathi, must be suspended pending an investigation into their fitness for office.
FUL and the Helen Suzman Foundation will argue that Abrahams, along with subordinates Torie Pretorius and Sibongile Mzinyathi, must be suspended pending an investigation into their fitness for office.
The two organisations say in court papers that Abrahams and his two colleagues are incompetent, and that poor judgement led to "baseless" fraud charges brought against Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, former South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Oupa Magashula and ex-deputy Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay. The charges relate to an early retirement payment that was made to the Pillay in 2010.
Abrahams announced and defended his decision to charge Gordhan at a press conference in Pretoria, saying his office didn't tolerate political interference and that the days where the NPA was disrespected were "over". He dropped the charges less than three weeks later, saying chances of a successful prosecution against Gordhan were slim.
Kriegler — who presided over the 1994 elections and was appointed to the Constitutional Court by former president Nelson Mandela — says the integrity of the NDPP is at stake.
"Abrahams' behaviour with the charging of Gordhan brought the office into disrepute and caused enormous damage. It is unforgivable," told the Huffington Post SA.
"Abrahams' behaviour with the charging of Gordhan brought the office into disrepute and caused enormous damage. It is unforgivable.Retired Judge Johann Kriegler
"The president, however, should have acted immediately, precisely because the office of the NDPP is such an important institution within the broader criminal justice system and justice architecture.
"The fact that Zuma did not act is scandalous. He should have. He didn't. He gave them two weeks to give him reasons why they should not be suspended. We're asking the court to force him to do what he should have done weeks ago."
Kriegler said he also doesn't believe a statement by the president's office, which stated it did not receive a letter from Freedom Under Law giving Zuma a deadline to act against the three. "I know for a fact we sent the letter to at least five email addresses in the presidency. But we'll deal with it in court," he said.
"I know for a fact we sent the letter to at least five email addresses in the presidency. But we'll deal with it in court."Kriegler
There have been six permanent and acting NDPP's before Abrahams and Zuma has been involved in every single one of them leaving office:
- Bulelani Ngcuka resigned after he declined to prosecute Zuma;
- Vusi Pikoli was suspended and eventually fired after Zuma became ANC leader;
- Mokotedi Mpshe dropped charges against Zuma and was later appointed a judge by him;
- Menzi Simelane was removed after the Constitutional Court found Zuma didn't "apply his mind" when appointing him;
- Nomgcobo Jiba, believed by critics to be close to Zuma, is appealing a judgment that she be struck off the roll; and
- Mxolisi Nxasana was quickly removed after Zuma instituted an inquiry into his fitness to hold office.
Court starts at 10:00. Follow Pieter du Toit on Twitter as he covers the case.