For a minister specifically tasked with upholding the Constitution, it was a serious blow when the Constitutional Court ruled in October that Jeff Radebe, in advising the president on the appointment of a new prosecutions head, acted “inconsistently” with South Africa`s fundamental law. The court ruled that President Jacob Zuma`s 2010 decision to appoint Menzi Simelane as prosecutions chief was irrational.
This was one of many controversies in the justice portfolio this year, most of them concerned with transparency and perceived political meddling. And, despite a promise last year of better governance, the department received a qualified audit. Auditor general Terence Nombembe found that it had met just 28% of its own targets for the 2011-2012 financial year.
Radebe also faced questions in Parliament about the number and selection of acting department heads. Particularly contentious was the choice of Simelane`s replacement, Nomgcobo Jiba, who has faced a stream of criticism, notably over the National Prosecuting Authority`s decision to charge striking Marikana miners. Earlier, it was revealed that in 2010 Zuma expunged the criminal record of Jiba`s husband, a former lawyer and Scorpions member, after he had stolen money from a client`s trust fund.
The suspension of a senior NPA advocate, Glynnis Breytenbach, in April also raised eyebrows. The NPA insists she had an inappropriately close relationship with a lawyer involved in a case she was investigating. But Breytenbach claimed there were ulterior motives for it that were linked to her determination to prosecute former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli for fraud and corruption after the NPA controversially withdrew charges last December.
The Special Investigating Unit, which also falls under Radebe, has been in the spotlight too. After its acting head, Nomvula Mokhatla, controversially reinstated a senior manager, Miseria Nyathi, it was revealed that the former had ignored the advice of two external advocates to the contrary. Nyathi`s reinstatement followed a marathon battle over her dismissal by Willie Hofmeyr when he was still head of the unit, after she refused to take a polygraph test.