Editorial: Involve the people

The Constitutional Court ruling this week that Shaun Abrahams’ appointment as the country’s chief prosecutor was invalid could be the turning point that South Africa needed in the fight against crime.

Statistics released yearly show that the country has a problem in dealing with crime in general, but the poor convictions in courts have further led the public to lose confidence in the criminal justice system.

And when there are questions about the credibility of the person occupying the position of national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), the prospect of having an effective prosecuting body are further diminished.

The court confirmed that Abrahams ascended to the position as a result of former president Jacob Zuma’s unconstitutional attempts to interfere in the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). While Abrahams belatedly decided that Zuma had to answer in court, the decision was mostly as a result of the pressure applied by the opposition and civil society, and the change of leadership in the governing party. Only once Zuma was no longer his boss did this senior lawyer, who took a solemn oath of office, feel emboldened to do the right thing.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa looks for the next NDPP, it would serve him well to ensure that the person appointed for the position is beyond reproach and his or her credibility is intact. It must be someone who will first look at the facts of all the cases brought for a decision without worrying about who the suspect is. Someone who will uphold the rule of law and live the vision of the NPA to “ensure justice in our society, so that people can live in freedom and security”.

While Ramaphosa has the sole constitutional prerogative to appoint the next NDPP and is most unlikely to appoint another sheep, it would bode well if he involved the citizenry in making this most important of decisions.

A public process, similar to that applied when Mogoeng Mogoeng was appointed chief justice in 2011, will ensure that the country is able to scrutinise the candidate and debate his or her strengths and weaknesses.

In that way, the confidence that so sorely needs to be restored in that office will not just depend on one man.