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Hunt for head prosecutor begins

Ramaphosa will make the final choice of a new chief prosecutor from three candidates that the panel recommends for the post.

A panel appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday began interviewing 11 contenders to head the National Prosecuting Authority, whose reputation was badly tarnished during former President Jacob Zuma’s scandal-marred tenure.

Ramaphosa will make the final choice of a new chief prosecutor from three candidates that the panel recommends for the post. While civil rights group Right2Know won a lawsuit aimed at opening the interviews up to the public, increased transparency may not be enough to restore the NPA’s integrity, according to Phephelaphi Dube, a director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

“There doesn’t seem to be enough political will to effect meaningful changes within the NPA,” Dube said by phone. “The fact that the president alone is still the person that’s going to appoint the National Director of Public Prosecutions means that there’s still room for political interference.”

The NPA was repeatedly accused of allowing political considerations to influence its decisions to prosecute during Zuma’s almost nine years in charge, and was dogged by repeated changes to its top management. The Constitutional Court ruled on Aug. 13 that the government’s decision to pay Mxolisi Nxasana R17.3 million ($1.2 million) to step down as chief prosecutor was illegal because it constituted an attempt to to buy him out of office, and the appointment of Shaun Abrahams as his successor was invalid.

Best candidate

While the president has the sole right to decide who heads the NPA, Ramaphosa’s decision to set up the advisory panel is seen a step to ensure the appointment is more credible.

Silas Ramaite, who has served as acting chief prosecutor for the past three months, is among the contenders for the job. Others include Shamila Batohi, who has served as a legal adviser at the International Criminal Court, Rodney de Kock, the head of the NPA in the Western Cape province, and Moipone Noko, who holds the same post in the KwaZulu-Natal region. The interviews are being conducted at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

“It must not be a political appointment, we need the best candidate who’s qualified for the job,” Roland Henwood, a political science lecturer at the University of Pretoria, said by phone. “There’s going to be massive pressure on that person in the short to medium term, so not just anyone will be able to fulfill that responsibility.”

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