Ramaphosa, throughout his presidential election campaign, has been consistent in declaring that all those implicated in state capture must be prosecuted.
Whoever he appoints as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) might be the frontman tasked with tackling the alleged fraudsters who were identified in the public protector's report into state capture.
In recent weeks, the deputy president has gone as far as to implore law enforcement agencies to charge those implicated in corruption and not wait for a judicial commission of enquiry.
“There is ample evidence of capture of key state institutions to advance private interests. Efforts to divert public resources into the hands of few families and individuals is continuing. The depth of state capture is revealed. Prosecution of those implicated does not need to wait for the commission. Those who have broken the law should be criminally charged and made to give account,” Ramaphosa said in Parliament last month.
On Friday, social media was speculating who Ramaphosa might choose as the new head of the NPA. The front runner is former public protector Thuli Madonsela. In what experts said was a surprising ruling, the High Court in Pretoria ruled that NPA boss Shaun Abrahams had to vacate his office and ordered that Ramaphosa must appoint a new head of the prosecuting body within 60 days. This is because the president was “conflicted” and implicated in graft allegations.
But Abrahams is not heading to pasture just yet, as Zuma was quick to indicate on Friday that he would be appealing the ruling.
“While the president awaits a full briefing on the judgment, he has been advised that an early assessment displays, with respect, various grounds upon which a successful appeal may be prosecuted,” said Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma’s spokesperson.
But experts believe the president will have a tough time appealing what they say is a watertight judgment.
“I think that this is a sound judgment. I believe that his chances of success are very narrow,” said Professor Shadrack Gutto of Unisa's African Renaissance Studies Department. This was just another nail in Zuma's coffin when it came to his credibility as president of South Africa, he said.
Phephelaphi Dube, director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, concurred: “It will be very difficult to appeal this matter because we need to consider that today's decision was given by a full bench of judges and if you are going to appeal, they need to bring a new ground to appeal.
“I think if they were to appeal, it will in essence be them trying to buy time which is something the courts are not going to entertain.”
Judge Dunstan Mlambo’s ruling came after Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law and the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution approached the High Court in Pretoria to have former prosecutions boss Mxolisi Nxasana’s removal declared invalid.
Nxasana accepted a R17.3million gold handshake from Zuma and left the NPA in 2015. Judge Mlambo ruled that Nxasana could not be reinstated.
Friday’s ruling came as pressure mounted on Abrahams to announce whether the NPA intended to prosecute Zuma on the so called “Spy Tapes” matter, which involves 783 corruption-related charges.
Corruption Watch welcomed the court’s decision. Its executive director, David Lewis, said: “We have long held that the state of the NPA and its leadership in particular is a major impediment to combating corruption. The president has appointed to this position a series of leaders on the basis of their loyalty to him, rather than their independence and integrity.”
On Friday, the ANC said it noted the judgment and would await the decision of those affected to decide whether to appeal or not.
“As the ANC, we trust that whatever decision taken will be in the interest of the administration of justice, the NPA and the country as a whole,” said ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa.
However, opposition parties slammed Zuma’s decision to appeal as they want the prosecutions chief to leave office now. DA leader Mmusi Maimane accused Zuma of using delaying tactics to stall the start of his prosecution on the 783 charges.
“No matter the appeal, Shaun Abrahams should vacate office and let someone who can actually do the job take over. He has distinguished himself, in his incompetence, by taking absolutely no proactive action on the allegations of corruption and state capture that have come to light in recent months,” said Maimane.
Cope said it welcomed the judgment as it would restore public confidence in the NPA.
Cosatu said it supported the removal of Abrahams from the position as he had failed to act on state capture.
“He is a liability rather an asset, especially in the fight against state capture and the cancer of corruption. South Africa is mired in a cesspool of corruption, with both the public and private sectors running amok and the country disintegrating at an alarming rate,” said Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.