Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-07-29 Reporter: Editorial

Big Shoes to Fill



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-07-29



Web Link


Job vacant : National Director of Public Prosecutions.

Salary : Substantial.

Perks : Cute Scorpions baseball cap and the best spin doctor in town Sipho Ngwema

Pitfalls : The directorate is an occasional snake pit. Must prosecute arms dealer Schabir Shaik from October, and in the process hang a political noose around a deputy president. Incumbent must also prosecute sundry MPs who have cheated on their travel vouchers.

Skills required : A political player you will walk a tight rope between trying to run an effective institution and keeping the ruling party happy. You must be a lawyer of standing with the ability to sail close to the wind. In addition to the headline-grabbing work, the job also requires an ability to beef up the rate of prosecutions across the criminal justice system, while cracking down on the many criminal syndicates that have taken root in South Africa.

Attributes : Nerves of steel. The last incumbent had to contend with a judicial commission of inquiry into allegations that he was an apartheid spy; Congress of South African Trade Union members baying for his blood at their national conference; and public claims by the African National Congress's secretary general that the investigation of the deputy president was "dirty tricks of a special type".

Job tips : Steer clear of alleged journalists named Mona and Munsamy, and of the extended Shaik family.

So the inevitable has happened and Bulelani Ngcuka has stepped down. It is a sad day, not because the official in this hot seat should stay on ad infinitum new blood is vital to ensure institutions stay on their toes and keep renewing themselves.

It is sad because of the political pressure Ngcuka has faced. While he may not have been pushed from office, he has certainly been nudged.

The pressure has come from some in the ruling party who have shown they will not allow an independent investigative and prosecutorial authority to get too close to its own.

Ngcuka has also been nudged by a Parliament that was less than supportive of his investigation into Deputy President Jacob Zuma. And he was elbowed by Zuma's lieutenants, who swung into action when Ngcuka's investigators got too close to what is still an unpalatable and unexplained allegation: that South Africa's second citizen asked for a bribe to swing an arms deal.

In addition, he has had to fight a silly turf battle with the South African Police Service, in the grip of the green-eyed monster because the work of the Scorpions is so high profile. All this makes Ngcuka's shoes hard to fill. Not only is he a fine leader and a good lawyer who has quickly built a strong organisation, but because he has been very much his own man.

It is vital that the new appointee follows in his footsteps. For the sake of clean government, he or she cannot be a malleable individual too closely tied to the party. At the SABC and the Office of the Public Protector, the ANC has eschewed independence in favour of party loyalty. If the pattern is repeated at the prosecutions directorate, an exodus of the investigative and prosecutorial talent that Ngcuka has so painstakingly built into a top team will inevitably follow.

Ngcuka has many options, probably in the private sector. We wish him well; he has given of his best.

With acknowledgement to the Mail & Guardian.