Magazine article New African

Once Bitten, Twice Shy? A New Appointment by President Jacob Zuma to the National Prosecution Authority Has Raised a Huge Storm in South Africa. but Is He Packing the "Justice Cluster" with People from His Ethnic Group Because of His Unique Experience-Having Been Hounded in the Past by People He Could Not Trust? Asks Pusch Commey

Magazine article New African

Once Bitten, Twice Shy? A New Appointment by President Jacob Zuma to the National Prosecution Authority Has Raised a Huge Storm in South Africa. but Is He Packing the "Justice Cluster" with People from His Ethnic Group Because of His Unique Experience-Having Been Hounded in the Past by People He Could Not Trust? Asks Pusch Commey

Article excerpt

IT IS ZUMA TIME, AND IT APPEARS THE man is leaving nothing to chance and good luck.

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When on 25 November, the South African president announced the appointment of Advocate Menzi Simelane as the new national director of public prosecutions, most opposition parties and some personalities went up in arms. Rarely has an appointment caused so much controversy.

Simelane succeeds Vusi Pikoli, who was paid 7.5 million rands in an out-of-court settlement after he challenged his dismissal from the position by ex-President Thabo Mbeki, later confirmed by Mbeki's successor, Jacob Zuma. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the appointment as an aberration and urged President Zuma to reverse it.

Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition party, was livid. She alleged that Simelane had a history of resisting the constitutionally enshrined independence of the prosecution service. The DA went to court on 11 December to challenge Simelane's appointment. The party agreed that Zuma had the prerogative to appoint Simelane, but in so doing, he had violated the constitution in that Simelane was not a "fit and proper person".

The Pretoria Bar Association of Advocates, of whom Simelane is a member, is investigating a complaint to determine whether he is a fit and proper person. If it finds against him, it can technically apply to the High Court to remove him from the roll of advocates.

So emotive has the issue been that Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert at the University of Cape Town, lashed out, saying: "The appointment shows an utter disregard for the constitution and the law. It is nothing more than the actions of a gangster hell-bent on protecting himself and his cronies."

The President's office hit back, sharply rebuking him for showing a lack of respect for Zuma. De Vos issued an unreserved apology for the intemperate language he used, but added: "Reasonable people, including myself, will continue to speculate about the true reasons for the appointment, which indeed shows a disregard for the law and the constitution as well as for the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority."

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The man himself

But who is the man stirring up all the trouble? No doubt Advocate Simelane, 39, who graduated with an LLB degree from the respected University of Natal Law School in 1995, is qualified to hold the job despite his relatively young age. In 1999, he was the commissioner at the Competition Commission, and in 2005 was appointed the director general of the Ministry of Justice, literally the administrative head. It was during this period that his fitness was called into question. And it was against the backdrop of some political rumblings.

In 2007, ex-President Mbeki, unhappy with Vusi Pikoli, the former national director of public prosecutions, summarily suspended Simelane, and set up an inquiry to determine his fitness to hold office--a constitutional prerequisite for dismissal.

The assault on Simelane stems from his conduct during the Frene Ginwala Commission when he was called upon to testify. The Commission found that he was "arrogant, dishonest" and "condescending" towards Pikoli.

More disconcerting was the Commission's finding that he had interfered in the work of the National Prosecuting Authority by writing a letter to the then Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla telling her to order Pikoli to stop investigating the former national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi. The findings were referred to the Public Service Commission (PSC), which recommended that the justice ministry institute disciplinary action against Simelane. …

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