Ngcuka : All You Need to Know
Mail and Guardian
Sam Sole, Stefaans Brümmer
The Decision. Why is he going?
Bulelani Ngcuka has wanted to go for a long time. The Mail & Guardian reported in September that he had been on the point of leaving earlier last year, but had been persuaded by President Thabo Mbeki to stay on. That was before the storm over the investigation into Deputy President Jacob Zuma really broke, but the smear tactics and dirty tricks of the past year were already on the horizon.
Although some analysts have suggested Ngcuka is unhappy with the level of political support he got during the bruising Zuma saga, sources inside the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) contradict this: "He does not have the demeanour of someone who's been caught out at something and forced to leave; he's smiling," said one insider sympathetic to Ngcuka.
On the contrary, sources suggest that where such support really counts — from Mbeki — Ngcuka has maintained regular and close contact.
In an interview with the Financial Mail this week, Ngcuka revealed that he had discussed his departure plans with Mbeki after the elections in April and had even been asked by the president to recommend a successor. It is understood there are ongoing discussions involving Ngcuka over the succession.
Ngcuka, who bore the brunt of vicious political fallout from the Zuma probe, told the magazine: "I have enjoyed his [Mbeki's] support throughout my stay."
A well-placed source within the NPA said Mbeki had again tried to persuade Ngcuka to stay on, but that Ngcuka felt now was the time to go.
"He's done what he wanted to achieve," said another.
The strain of the past six years is also not something Ngcuka has been keen to continue with indefinitely.
"This is a very, very demanding job," one of his colleagues commented. While, as he put it, "Bulelani generally likes a good fight", the battle over Zuma has been personally punishing, especially for his family.
And, despite the finding of the Hefer commission repudiating the allegation that Ngcuka had been an apartheid spy, the smear tactics have continued. "All the Zuma shit isn't going away," said the colleague, citing the continuing circulation of "rape stories" that were part of a smear e-mail sent to many news organisations more than a year ago.
In a way, Ngcuka had become a liability for the organisation, another source agreed. Because the Zuma camp had focused its campaign so much on the personality, decisions and alleged past of Ngcuka, his departure may take some pressure off the organisation.
Ngcuka's departure will also defuse some of the political mobilisation that supporters of Zuma have been able to achieve within the African National Congress. While not an accused, Zuma effectively goes on political trial alongside his financial adviser Shabir Shaik when Shaik's corruption case begins in October. With Ngcuka out of the way, Zuma will find it more difficult to argue that he is being victimised.
The Timing. Why now?
Ngcuka has wanted to leave for some time but did not want to be seen to be buckling to pressure, say colleagues. Now, post-Hefer and after the fuss around Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana's report has abated, there is a lull which allowed him to leave with greater dignity.
"The heat will certainly be turned up again come October [when the trial of Shabir Shaik starts]," says an NPA source. "The next phase [the trial and related events] can take 18 months. The mud will be flying. If he goes then, when the mud is flying, he would be seen to be retreating under pressure."
Ngcuka also has his own future to consider. He has confirmed that he is headed for a senior executive position and leaving now, before the uncertainties of Shaik's trial, makes sense.
Later, if the dirt really starts flying — or if the Shaik trial goes belly-up — Ngcuka would be a much less desirable corporate acquisition.
Other politically sensitive cases are in the offing. The parliamentary travel voucher investigation being pursued by the Scorpions is likely to see some MPs arrested and will not make Ngcuka any more politically popular. Finally, other court cases and investigations involving people perceived as friends or allies of Ngcuka are also on the horizon.
The Shaik Trial. Will it be affected?
That's unlikely. Says one NPA source: "The bottom line is the Shaik trial is proceeding ... If there were any doubt about that, Bulelani would not have gone ...
"In order for that [case] to go away, there would have to be a political instruction from the top, and that would be effectively illegal."
Of course a new director can review any decision to prosecute, but the decision on Shaik was taken formally not by Ngcuka but by the head of the Scorpions, advocate Leonard McCarthy, in conjunction with the provincial director of prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal, and there is a procedure that would have to be followed to set aside their decision.
In fact, Ngcuka's departure may make the prosecution case easier by drawing at least some of the political sting. A new national director, without the baggage accumulated by Ngcuka, may even be better placed to review the decision not to prosecute Zuma.
The NPA appears committed to the case and has appointed an outside advocate, Guido Penzhorn, to provide back-up advice. Penzhorn led the successful bribery prosecutions in the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme corruption cases.
The Scorpions. Will they survive?
Ngcuka has built a solid organisation and has recently restructured his management team. The morale of prosecutors has been turned around and the value of integrating legal and investigative skills in the Directorate of Special Operations (the Scorpions) has been demonstrated with a 90% conviction rate.
Says one NPA source: "This is an institution ... It might be a new bureaucracy, but it is one and bureaucracies transcend individuals."
He said Ngcuka was a magnetic personality who inspired his staff, but at the end of the day, "the employer is the NPA, not Ngcuka ... My sense is it will be fine."
Said the same source: "People are feeling a bit sad; people are feeling a bit bewildered, but I'm confident that once the new appointment is made, [the organisation] will be back in gear soon — depending on the appointment."
The threat of the Scorpions being folded into the police or the intelligence services appears to have receded, though the rivalry between competing security agencies will remain.
"The enemy is out there, and the opportunists ... But they will not succeed." He pointed out that the ANC election manifesto had said that the Scorpions must be strengthened. "Our understanding of the balance of forces is that it is not possible [for the Scorpions to be disbanded] ..."
The Succession. Who's up for it?
It will be someone deeply trusted by Mbeki. The Scorpions, in particular, are Mbeki's creation and have manifestly served as a force to discipline a society — and a ruling party — going through fundamental changes.
In his Financial Mail interview, Ngcuka was blunt about the political nature of his post, saying: "A politically independent director of public prosecutions is wishful thinking."
Ngcuka has put forward several names to the president, some from within the NPA, some external.
Internal candidates appear to be Dr Silas Ramaite, head of auxiliary services, Scorpions boss McCarthy and special investigation unit head Willy Hofmeyr, probably the front-runner.
Externally, there has been speculation about former Limpopo premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi, but the ongoing Scorpions investigation into alleged kick-backs for a Limpopo pension payout contract still hangs over him.
"It won't be Ramatlhodi," said one well-placed source, despite the fact the former premier has some backers at ANC headquarters.
It appears as if Ngcuka will stay on until a successor is secured.
No ‘caretaker' for NPA
President Thabo Mbeki will not appoint an acting national director of public prosecutions, but wants Bulelani Ngcuka to stay on until he can name a successor, which may take weeks.
Well-placed sources close to the Presidency and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Thursday said that, for the sake of morale and stability, Mbeki did not want a "caretaker" at the NPA and wished to manage a swift transition.
Earlier, insiders had spoken of the likelihood that NPA would have an acting head for an extended period.
Mbeki has been presented with a list of possible candidates by Ngcuka but may also choose someone not on the list, the contents of which remained a closely guarded secret at the time of going to press.
With acknowledgements to Sam Sole, Stefaans Brümmer and the Mail & Guardian.