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New prosecutions boss Shamila Batohi faces mammoth task to fix ‘dysfunctional’ NPA

2018-12-05 00:00

The newly appointed National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, faces the unenviable task of uniting a highly divided prosecutions service.

She also faces the other mammoth job of instilling public confidence in the organisation which was left dysfunctional and which was used in the past to settle political scores.

A list of high profile cases and impending decisions on whether to prosecute or not will also feature on her immediate to-do list when she assumes office.

Batohi will start work at the National Prosecuting Authority’s Silverton headquarters in February after serving her notice at the job she has been doing since 2009 – that of senior legal adviser to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.

Batohi, who was announced as the country’s new top prosecutor on Tuesday by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is far from new to the NPA, having served as the provincial director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal.

She also ticks all the boxes, beating four other nominees – Siyabulela Mapoma, Simphiwe Mlotshwa, Rodney de Kock, and Andrea Johnson – to the big job.

Crucially, having been out of the system for almost 10 years, she is highly unlikely to be aligned to any of the poisonous factions plaguing the unit.

However, just minutes after her appointment, messages were already circulating among prosecutors in her old province, with many decrying her stint in KwaZulu-Natal where many black prosecutors complained of being overlooked for promotions and career enhancement during her tenure there about 10 years ago.

Batohi dealt with those allegations during the interview process saying the allegations were baseless, unspecific and broad.

When she assumes office, Batohi’s most serious challenge is unlikely to come from her old province. They are most likely to come from within the NPA’s Pretoria head office.

This building houses scores of senior prosecutors aligned to different warring factions who have been fighting for control of the heart of the prosecuting authority.

Batohi will have to navigate carefully and exercise her leadership skills to ensure that unity is built after years of infighting and squabbles.

She appears to know what she is in for, repeating the refrain that there was a lot of hard work ahead of her.

During her statement on Tuesday, she also made no bones about the fact that she will not tolerate any obstruction of justice and infighting within the service, and would be firm on anyone that does so.

However, the factions within the NPA are ruthless and have access to support from rogue intelligence officers and State Security agents whose have made it their mission to dig up dirt on whomever they dislike.

Former NPA head, Mxolisi Nxasana, and current acting head, Dr Silas Ramaite, can attest to the work of what those nefarious elements are capable of.

In one interview, Nxasana revealed how shortly after his appointment, he uncovered a plot to oust him before he could even settle in the post.

Having been a top prosecutor, Batohi will in all likelihood make a better head than her predecessor, Shaun Abrahams.

The NDPP post is often referred to as a poisoned chalice with none of the former directors having completed their 10 year term of office.

Will Batoyi be the first to do so?

Only time will tell.

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December 9 2018