Who is next, Cyril?

Photographer:Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Bulelani Ngcuka. Vusi Pikoli. Mokotedi Mpshe. Menzi Simelane. Nomcgobo Jiba. Mxolisi Nxasana. Shaun Abrahams.

What do all these people have in common?

Well, they have all, at some time or another, served as either National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) or acting NDPP.

The position is mandated in the National Prosecuting Authority Act (Act No. 32 of 1998), which empowers the president to appoint the NDPP for a period of 10 years.

That no NDPP, acting or otherwise, has served a full term, bears mentioning.

The first NDPP, Bulelani Ngcuka, served the longest of all incumbents, from 1998 to 2004, and he “resigned” in July of that year.

The circumstances surrounding his resignation remain the subject of speculation, but suffice to say, the fallout from his decision to investigate then Deputy President Jacob Zuma for possible corruption in the arms deal was a key motivating factor.

Then public protector Lawrence Mushwana found Mr Ngcuka had conducted himself improperly when investigating Mr Zuma, and the National Assembly adopted Mr Mushwana’s report. Although no censure was proposed, the die was cast: Mr Ngcuka made the mistake of going after royal game.

Vusi Pikoli became NDPP in 2005, and in September 2007, then President Thabo Mbeki suspended him, ostensibly because of “irretrievable break down in the working relationship between the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and the NDPP”.

Evidence emerged subsequently that the real reason for his suspension was his investigation of Mr Mbeki’s long-time friend, and then police chief, Jackie Selebi, later convicted for corruption and sentenced to a 15-year prison term.

President Kgalema Motlanthe, who warmed the presidential seat between Mr Mbeki’s recall and Jacob Zuma’s ascendancy, fired Mr Pikoli, who then sought reinstatement through the courts, until in November 2009, he accepted an out-of-court settlement of R7.5 million with the government.

Mr Motlanthe appointed Mokotedi Mpshe as acting NDPP, who wasted no time in withdrawing charges against Mr Zuma in 2009, which led to an as yet unresolved court battle to ensure Mr Zuma gets his day in court. (You know; the one he says he wants, but has done everything in his power to avoid?)

No sooner had Mr Pikoli walked into the sunset clutching his R7.5 million, than President Zuma appointed his handpicked candidate, Menzi Simelane, whose term, although fraught with controversy, endured until Ocotber 2012 when the Constitutional Court ruled his appoinment irrational and set it aside.

Nomcgobo Giba replaced him as acting NDPP, and her term was equally controversial.

She was struck off the roll of advocates on September 15 2016 for her conduct in a number of politically sensitive cases, including the Richard Mdluli matter, the Johan Booysen matter, and the Zuma “spy tapes” matter.

An inquiry into her suitability to hold office, along with compromised colleague, Lawrence Mrwebi, was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in October. She remains on the books as Deputy NDPP.

Mr Zuma replaced her with his next handpicked candidate, Mxolisi Nxasana, in October 2013.

No sooner had he assumed office than controversy arose, and after a protracted inquiry into his fitness to hold office, he too accepted a “settlement” – R17 million from Mr Zuma – and stepped down in May 2015. He’d lasted 19 months in office.

The by now infamous Shaun Abrahams took the hot seat next, and once more, the NDPP’s term was mired in controversy.

Widely seen as a stooge appointed to protect Mr Zuma from corruption and other charges, his prosecutorial (non)behaviour earend him the sobriquet “Shaun the sheep”.

His appointment lasted until August, when the Constitutional Court set aside Mr Mxasana’s exit from office and ruled as unconstituional the deal he struck with Mr Zuma, which had the effect of invalidating “Shaun the sheep’s” appointment. He left office in August.

Mr Ramaphosa must now appoint a sucessor and this time, things are set to be done quite differently.

He has appointed an advisory panel which – with the exception of chairperson, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe, who is seen to be a staunch Zuma ally – is regarded as balanced and objective, and nominations are flowing in.

The NPA’s mission, which states it will “ensure justice for the victims of crime by prosecuting without fear, favour and prejudice”, lies in tatters after years of manipulation by Messrs Mbeki, Motlanthe and Zuma, and public trust in this most vital institution, is at an all-time low.

Mr Ramaphosa has a golden opportunity to appoint an NDPP who is squeaky clean and, in his own words, “slippery to the clutches of state capture”.

Question is, will he?