‘Only civil society can prevent crisis’

Rights groups, lawyers support court move over NPA’s Abrahams

THE only remedy left to protect South Africa from a constitutional crisis is the legal challenge by civil society to force President Jacob Zuma to take action against under-fire national prosecuting authority boss Shaun Abrahams.

That is the view of constitutional rights organisations and lawyers after the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law approached the Pretoria High Court to have Zuma suspend Abrahams and appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into his fitness to hold office.

The application also calls for the suspension of the North Gauteng director of public prosecutions, advocate Sibongile Mzinyathi, and the NPA’s priority crimes investigation unit head, advocate Torie Pretorius.

The action is over the NPA’s decision to lay and then withdraw charges of fraud and theft against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for his approval of former South African Revenue Services commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirement and then rehiring him as a consultant.

In court papers, HSF director Francis Antonie said: “The news [of Gordhan’s charging] saw serious questions posed about the independence of the NPA and the NDPP, the workings of the executive being affected and the country being rocked by political uncertainty.

“At the core of the matter is a display of incompetence of a magnitude so stupefying that it beggars belief.”

He said they sought to review, set aside and declare unlawful Zuma’s failure to institute an inquiry.

Antonie said Zuma had failed in his constitutional duty to protect the NPA’s independence.

Centre for Constitutional Rights director Phephelaphi Dube said while the application encroached on Zuma’s powers – since the NPA Act says only the president may suspend the national director – overwhelming public interest served as a check on Zuma’s powers in this regard.

“In this instance, the president’s failure [to suspend Abrahams pending an inquiry into his fitness to hold office] is irrational, given the clear abuse of the NPA’s powers in the Gordhan matter and the allegations of political influence following Abrahams’s visit to and meeting with the justice minister and Zuma at Luthuli House.”

Constitutional lawyer Piet de Jager said the courts were the check and balance needed to ensure the protection of our constitutional rights. – Additional reporting by Babalo Ndenze

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