Shamila Batohi is our new NDPP

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Advocate Shamila Batohi after her interview for the position of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, 16 November 2018. Picture: Jacques Naude /African News Agency (ANA)

A withdrawn traffic fine and a more than decade-old racism accusation aside, our new NDPP appears to come highly recommended.

Shamila Batohi, the woman widely tipped to become our new national prosecuting authority (NPA) boss, is now officially the new national director of public prosecutions (NDPP).

The other four nominees for the position were Siyabulela Mapoma, Simphiwe Mlotshwa, Rodney de Kock, and Andrea Johnson.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Batohi’s appointment at a media briefing at the Union Building on Tuesday afternoon.

The new NPA head apparently found out about her appointment at the same time as the public, as part of a system to avoid leaks.

According to the president, the new appointment is an attempt to address the state of dysfunctional aspects of the NPA that were identified by the court.

He also said that, while recognising his constitutional duty to appoint the NDPP, he did seek advice from a panel of people including legal experts and representatives of chapter 9 institutions.

Who is Shamila Batohi?

The former director of public prosecutions (DPP) in KwaZulu-Natal, Batohi has also served as senior legal adviser to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) since 2009. In 1995, she was in a high-level team appointed by Nelson Mandela to investigate apartheid-era hit squad activities.

According to Corruption Watch, Batohi has an illustrious pedigree, barring a minor incident. A R1,250 speeding fine against her was withdrawn when she was the KZN DPP. This was, however, attributed to an administrative error.

Du Plessis said Batohi showed a level of innovation and maturity the post required in the post-Zuma era.

“She demonstrated experience and maturity that the others can’t compete with,” said Du Plessis.

“She has an understanding of the gravity of the job because of her experience with high-profile cases. And she also brought a level of innovation and inspiration that stood out in her interpretation of what is lacking in the criminal justice system, and how she would deal with corruption and coming up with special directorates.

“She clearly possesses the kind of innovativeness that is needed now in the national prosecuting authority (NPA) and she is clearly saying that what has been done and has not worked for 20 years cannot continue to be done.”

READ MORE: Racism accusations haunt aspiring NDPP Batohi

During the interview process, however, Batohi faced a barrage of questions regarding accusations of racism levelled against her more than a decade ago when she headed prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal.

Batohi, who has been based in the Netherlands at the ICC in The Hague for just short of a decade, told the eight-member panel led by Energy Minister Jeff Radebe that she still did not understand why she was accused of racism by her subordinates.

“Those were the allegations. Those allegations were racism, but what underlied those allegations I don’t know because they were not specific, as in, you did this on this particular day or you treated somebody differently. I could have explained, but there was none of that detail,” said Batohi.

“I know that the allegation of racism was made but what underlied that allegation, I have no idea.”

READ MORE: Shaun Abrahams says he did not delay state capture arrests

Advocate Lawrence Manye, one of the eight panellists, then asked Batohi if she had faced similar accusations at her current job at the ICC.

Batohi responded emphatically: “No. Never. I’ve been there for nine years now”.

She told the panel that she led a diverse “small team” of five people comprised of a Dutch male, a Russian female, a Malaysian female, and a Ugandan female.

Batohi has been a senior legal advisor to the prosecutor at the ICC in the Hague since 2009.

READ MORE: NDPP interviews must be open to public, court rules

Experts lauded the unprecedented level of transparency in the appointment process for new NDPP, with shortlisted candidates’ interviews televised.

The Democratic Alliance’s Glynnis Breytenbach, who turned down the candidacy for the top job despite working for decades as an NPA prosecutor, said it was a step in the right direction.

This followed the High Court in Pretoria granting an urgent court order to the Right2Know Campaign allowing the media access to the process, which saw a panel of experts interview candidates for the important position.

Judge Johan Louw said the office of the NPA had been plagued by instability over the past few years because of who was appointed as the NDPP, which was why the interviews had to be conducted in public.

Louw was, of course, referring to Shaun Abrahams, whose appointment was declared unconstitutional, and who was accused of abetting state capture during his tenure as NPA boss.

Abrahams tried unsuccessfully to overturn a high court ruling that ordered him out of office at the Constitutional Court in August.

Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga handed down the judgment, declaring both the manner in which former NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana vacated office and the subsequent appointment of Abrahams to have been invalid.