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Withdrawal of criminal charges against this province’s MEC for Economic Development and Tourism, Mike Mabuyakhulu, and Speaker Peggy Nkonyeni caused dismay among opposition lawmakers.
The leader of the DA in the legislature, Sizwe Mchunu, put down the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to political interference. Insufficient evidence, he said, had become the stock excuse when ANC politicians were facing the heat.
This drew a blast from the province’s ANC leader, Premier Zweli Mkhize. He called it reckless, misdirected... and politicking. Mchunu had done irreparable harm to the NPA, seriously denting the criminal justice system, he said.
But the spat over prosecutorial judgement started well before Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni. It went back years, when the prosecuting authority dropped charges against Jacob Zuma. This left South Africa with a corrupter sent away for 15 years, and no trial of a recipient of this bribery.
Then there is the ongoing case of prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, facing 16 NPA disciplinary charges in Pretoria arising from allegedly failing to act impartially in a dispute over mining rights.
But Breytenbach believes she was suspended to stop her prosecuting former police crime intelligence chief, Richard Mdluli, on fraud and other charges.
Then, on Friday, the NPA sought the recusal of the disciplinary chairman, a lawyer whose firm had represented a steel company which might have an interest in who got those mining rights. This in spite of the fact that the lawyer had declared this at the outset – and had had the NPA’s approval.
The withdrawal of charges in KZN was not the only case to inspire misgivings, therefore. It is not only our courts that must withstand scrutiny in the justice system, but what happens before cases get there.