Cape Town – With the ANC front benches empty, the National Assembly on Tuesday heard a lacklustre debate on the impact of prosecutorial decisions on the economy with opposition MPs arguing that the President could no longer have sole power to appoint the National Director of Public Prosecutions as he had a conflict of interest.
The authors of the Constitution had in mind former President Nelson Mandela and could never have imagined a sitting President who faces 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering, said Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane, who tabled the motion for debate.
He noted that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been headed by six different people in less than a decade.
“And all because of one man. We cannot continue leaving the appointment of NDPP to the President,” Maimane said.
“The drafters of the Constitution had Nelson Mandela in mind and never foresaw that a man with 783 charges of fraud and racketeering will occupy the post of President and got to choose the national director of public prosecutions.”
The DA would therefore propose an amendment to the NPA Act.
Maimane ventured that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who saw Abrahams announce fraud charges against him in October only to withdraw these three weeks later, would agree that Zuma’s conduct impacted disastrously “on the political economy of our country”.
As Maimane lambasted Zuma, presiding officer Thoko Didiza interrupted him with a reminder that the topic of debate was how NPA decisions impacted on the economy.
DA justice spokeswoman Glynnis Breytenbach described the handling of the Gordhan matter as “stupefying” and noted the announcement by Abrahams at a press conference prompted the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to shed R50 billion.
The United Democratic Movement MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said his party proposed that the Constitution and the relevant law be amended to give Parliament a role in the appointment and the removal of the NDPP.
He said as things stood, the person in the post was a hatchet man for the ruling party.
Lamenting the “unbelievable inanity” of the NPA’s decision-making around Gordhan, Kwankwa said the problem had its origin in Zuma.
“The fish rots from the head down, the head obviously being the President of the republic.
It would be imprudent to blame Zuma for all South Africa’s problems but “he is indisputably the biggest part of the problem”, he added.
Kwankwa rubbished Zuma’s claim that Brazil and Russia were surviving their credit rating downgrades, noting that the former was in its longest recession since the 1930s.
The ANC fielded Deputy Minister John Jeffery to answer the criticism. He did so by accusing the opposition of politicising the NPA and questioning how Breytenbach as a former prosecutor and a “crime accused” was suitable to be the opposition’s shadow justice minister.
Breytenbach faces charges of contravening the NPA Act.
The NPA accuses her of shredding documents and wiping information off her laptop while she headed its organised crime unit in Pretoria. Breytenbach has said the charges are politically motivated.
Of Gordhan’s short-lived charges, Jeffery said it was hardly the first time the NPA had taken a controversial decision, but did question the wisdom of calling a press conference, as Abrahams did, to announce the decision to charge Gordhan with fraud.
He also noted that there was international precedent to set up bodies with the power to review decisions to prosecute, and suggested South Africa should consider creating oversight over the NPA without eroding its independence.