Shamila Batohi, the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced advocate Shamila Batohi as the new National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), the nation heaved a huge sigh of relief. The transparent selection process and her ultimate appointment have revived hope among citizens who had lost faith in the NDPP.

Batohi joins an organisation that is in a deep crisis and in a dysfunctional stage. It is now history that the institution’s problems date to the days of the first NDPP’s head Bulelani Ngcuka, and that chaos within the institution reached its peak in the past 10 years. 

The period created a conducive atmosphere for political expediency to destroy the leadership of security and enforcement agencies so that the “economy crashes and country burns”, thus allowing them to loot the country’s resources.

Without any doubt, Batohi is facing a mammoth task of rebuilding the NDPP back to what the country’s Constitution envisaged. She has inherited a burning organisation which immediately demands that she leads in the execution of an effective turnaround strategy for the NDPP. She has to display a sound and shrewd leadership in order to rebuild the credibility of the institution.

And that stewardship should be expressed through a sound turnaround plan that ignites hope, passion, commitment and competitiveness. Such a plan needs to follow specific steps. The first step is to diagnose problems faced by the institution. It is no secret that the NDPP is plagued by factionalism and crippled by scandals, infighting and bad governance. Batohi joins an organisation that has a permanent and powerful management layer of NDPP’s deputies.

Their permanent employment status has given them an insurmountable amount of influence that has permeated throughout the institution for years. The influence of Adv Nomgcobo Jiba and Adv Lawrence Mrwebi attest to this reality and was the main reason that shortened Adv Mxolisi Nxasane’s stay as head of the NDPP.

Batohi has to do a thorough internal audit of the organisation’s human capital to determine the qualifications and skills that are available before she starts attracting highly qualified and capable prosecutors to institution. Some professional and competent prosecutors were pushed out of the system in the past years to open space for compromised deployees to toe the politicians’ line.

She will have to prioritise boosting staff morale by providing resources and support for more training, more rewards and by creating an atmosphere that allows them to do what they know best without interference, fear or favour. An understanding of problems faced by the NDPP and inclusive and appropriate interventions will help her win the respect and allegiance of senior prosecutors and raises morale and productivity of the staff in general.

The second step is to develop and communicate a compelling vision. Established on August 1, 1998, the NDPP is enshrined in the country’s Constitution as an institution responsible for investigation and prosecution on behalf of the State. These duties are expected to be discharged without succumbing to any undue influence by influential members of the community. 

The political meddling in the affairs of the NDPP by the country’s political executives, and the impact this had on the organisation, is a matter of public record. It is within this context that Batohi is expected to draw a thick line between the NDPP and its constitutional mandate on one side and narrow political interests. Politicians, worldwide, are always tempted to interfere in prosecutorial decisions, especially where they are the subject of investigations and possible prosecutions.

The third step will require Batohi to establish a few vital goals and pursue them relentlessly. With concerns about rising levels of corruption and serious commercial crimes, it is time that the institution is seen to be acting urgently and decisively.

The fourth step is to create and consolidate relationships with supporting alliance. The relationship between the security and enforcement structures has been damaged in the past years as a result of abuses, foul play and infighting. They spent most of their times harassing each other instead of combining their scarce resources to fight the common enemy, which is crime.

Again, Batohi has to devote time and effort to improving the institution’s image among the public through innovative approaches such as “community prosecution”, and public outreach efforts. She needs the buy-in and support of the civil society movement. Its strength lies in its independent and principled stance, and the voluntary basis upon which it has come together to act and promote common interests.

Having a good relationship with civil society will give the NDPP a reliable partner to lean on when political and economic powers try to corrupt the institution.

The fifth step is to inspire and deliver a message of hope. Allegations of corruption and state capture of the past few years have left citizens with frustration and anger as those linked with these criminal acts are not prosecuted despite clear evidence. It is therefore important for Batohi, in words and actions, to shift the country’s mindset from despair to hope.

The big threat to her turnaround strategy will be insufficient resources. Normally turnaround plans require huge amounts of capital resources - skills, money, equipment and infrastructure - in order to succeed. Fighting crime is a complex task and requires sophisticated and costly resources.

Ramaphosa has been urgent and decisive and has expressed his willingness to fix the broken NDPP. Now the baton is in the hands of Batohi, and hers is to provide sound stewardship. And to fulfil its constitutional mandate to prosecute without fear, favour or prejudice, a principled and dedicated core of prosecutors and employees is indispensable. 

Last, but not least, it is the duty of all South Africans to be active citizens, thus ensuring that the country is free from corruption, state capture and other criminal acts. Whether the NDPP is able to extract itself from its present malaise, time will tell.

Khumalo is an independent political analyst