ow did you know about my appointment before me?” new National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams asked as we sat down for an interview in his new office. Abrahams, whose appointment was confirmed only a few days after City Press predicted he would be appointed, is excited about his new position. He is upbeat and even believes he can complete his term of office without accepting a “golden handshake”.
However, none of his predecessors has completed a full term.
The most recent of them, Mxolisi Nxasana, left office with a golden handshake worth millions after falling out with President Jacob Zuma. This was shortly after an inquiry into Nxasana’s fitness to hold office had to be abandoned the day before it was meant to start.
Abrahams (39), who might face the dilemma of deciding whether to reinstate corruption charges against the president, says he is prepared to charge anyone – including Zuma – if he is bound by “facts and circumstances”.
He is the youngest person to have taken up this key position.
Although he was born in the Western Cape, he prefers to see himself as a “Zulu boy”, having spent most of his childhood in uMgungundlovu outside Pietermaritzburg.
“When I tell people I am a Zulu boy, nobody wants to believe it,” he laughs before he tells his life story.
Abrahams’ mother, Annie, was a teacher and his father, Neels, worked in construction.
He started out as a clerk in the office of the attorneygeneral (nowadays the director of public prosecutions) at the tender age of 19 in 1994.
He studied part time at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and, when he obtained a BJuris degree, received a delegation to prosecute from the province’s attorneygeneral in 1997. Abrahams rose through the ranks and, before this appointment, was a senior state advocate in the priority crimes litigation unit’s office.
He comes from a religious family and describes his career achievements as being “designed and ordained by God”.
Abrahams seems unperturbed by the rocky road former national directors of public prosecutions have walked before him.
There is a belief that the NPA job is the quickest way to end the careers of senior lawyers. Former NPA heads with more political clout than Abrahams have fallen, many after disagreements with their political heads and the president.
“I am optimistic about completing a full term. I aspire to do so,” he says.
“When I accepted the offer, I was extremely mindful of the challenges all my predecessors had faced.”
Those challenges include restoring morale in the NPA and instilling public confidence in the institution.
He says this will not be a tough task for him, as he has the ability to unite, engage and integrate key stakeholders in the institutions of law enforcement and justice.
Abrahams has inherited an organisation where staff morale is at an all-time low and there is a lack of trust in its leadership. He faces the daunting task of uniting a divided organisation that has seen senior executives publicly voicing their differences with each other.
Senior NPA executives are divided and fall within factions that work against each other, often undermining the institution and the serious cases it has to handle.
He promises to deal with any cases where senior prosecutions officers have been accused of not living up to the principles and values of the profession.
The father of three has handled several high-profile cases, including that of late AWB leader Eugène Terre’Blanche when he was charged with terrorism and sabotage committed before 1994, and Nigerian Henry Okah, the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, who is now serving time in a South African jail.
In what could be another stern test, Abrahams has called on the prosecution team to brief him on the matter involving suspended crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli.
“I have called on the prosecution to brief me about the details of the case and will engage the national commissioner, Riah Phiyega, regarding the declassification of documents required in the matter,” he said.
The case against Mdluli was withdrawn in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court two weeks ago. The court struck the fraud case against Mdluli off the roll after key documents could not be declassified.