Durban - Just four days before Jacob Zuma announced his new cabinet, then-justice minister Jeff Radebe called prosecutions boss Mxolisi Nxasana to a late-night meeting in his office and instructed him to resign.
Radebe claimed Nxasana had not been given security clearance because of past brushes with the law, including being tried for murder nearly 30 years ago.
But Nxasana – who ran a criminal law practice in Durban before being appointed National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) by Zuma in October – refused and said if the minister tried to fire him, he would challenge this and have his say at an inquiry or in court.
Sources close to Nxasana allege that “dredging up his past” is an attempt to remove him because he has made “unpopular decisions”.
They say one of Nxasana’s deputies wants his job and has Radebe’s backing.
Radebe, who is now a minister in the Presidency, declined to answer questions sent by The Mercury on Thursday.
His spokesman, Mthunzi Mhaga, said the questions had been redirected to new justice minister Michael Masutha, but he too had not commented by the time of going to press.
Nxasana, who was once president of the KZN Law Society, has admitted to state security officials that in 1985 he stood trial for murder but was acquitted, the court finding his version of self-defence true.
He also admits having been arrested in September for “careless driving and resisting arrest” but the matter was not prosecuted and he says he lodged a complaint against the police reservists involved.
He says in about 2002 or 2003 he was fined R2 000, suspended for three years, by the KZN Law Society for “misconduct” involving a Road Accident Fund matter that he had not taken to court on time.
This information is contained in a letter he penned to state security agency director Simon Ntombela this week in which he queried why, if the verification process had been finalised as claimed by Radebe, he was not informed of it.
In the letter he mentioned several meetings he’d had with Ntombela “at which I raised a number of issues of concern” and the “inordinate time it was taking for my security clearance” and investigations being conducted against him.
He said Ntombela had claimed to have no knowledge of any of these investigations.
He talked of a further meeting with Ntombela on May 19 “where we discussed at length” his previous arrests and the issue with the law society.
“Two days later, on May 21, at 20.30, I was called by the minister to his office in Pretoria. He said he had received a report from the State Security Agency saying it had declined my security status. I would have thought it courteous to inform me before,” he said, adding that he had a right to approach the high court should he not agree with the decision.
He asked Ntombela if the verification process had been finalised, and if so, for reasons.
He said an investigator from state security was interviewing people in Umlazi for vetting purposes up until that very day and a letter had been sent to the law society asking about matters he had disclosed in the vetting document.
A response was being awaited.
“How was a report prepared and given to the minister when the process is still pending?”
Nxasana declined to comment when approached by The Mercury, saying “it is not appropriate”.
The Mercury has confirmed that he reported details of the meeting with the minister to his four deputies the following day.
A source close to him said since his taking office there had been “constant undermining” and before the meeting with Radebe rumours of imminent changes in leadership were spreading through the office.
There have also been rumours that he would reinstate the corruption charges against Zuma.
“He has refused to play ball. He didn’t want to clear (suspended crime intelligence head) Richard Mdluli,” the source said.
Another issue was his decision not to appeal against a judgment in which former acting NDPP and now deputy Nomgcobo Jiba was roasted and which resulted in the dropping of racketeering charges against suspended KZN Hawks head, General Johan Booysen in the Cato Manor “death squad” case.
“Allegations were levelled at him that he was friendly with Booysen’s lawyers.
“He has now distanced himself from the case and a deputy is handling it.”
* Being national director of public prosecutions hasn’t been an easy job for those in the hot seat.
1998: Bulelani Ngcuka is appointed. He steps down following pressure linked to fraudster Schabir Shaik.
2005: Vusi Pikoli is appointed.
2007: Pikoli is suspended by Thabo Mbeki after he prosecuted police commissioner Jackie Selebi despite objections by government.
2008: Pikoli is sacked by Kgalema Motlanthe.
2009: Menzi Simelane is appointed to the post.
2011: Simelane is forced to step aside after a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling.
2011: Nomgcobo Jiba is appointed acting head of NPA.
2012: Simelane is sacked.