(Bloomberg) -- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa named Shamila Batohi as the nation’s new chief prosecutor, putting her at the forefront of efforts to tackle one of the world’s highest murder rates and rampant graft.
Batohi’s task is to rebuild a National Prosecuting Authority that’s been dogged by repeated changes to its top management and allegations that it allowed political considerations to influence its decisions to prosecute during former President Jacob Zuma’s rule. Zuma was forced to quit under pressure from the ruling party in February and replaced by Ramaphosa, who’s made the fight against crime and corruption a top priority.
“The National Director of Public Prosecutions needs to be able to take decisions independently and as well as impartially,” Ramaphosa told reporters in Pretoria, the capital, on Tuesday. “In appointing a new NDPP, we are addressing the state of disfunctionality and deficiencies within the National Prosecuting Authority.”
Batohi, who previously served as a legal adviser at the Hague-based International Criminal Court and head of the NPA in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, is best known in South Africa for leading evidence to a judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of cricket match-fixing in 2000.
“We in the NPA have important work to do, which includes devoting our efforts to holding accountable those who have corrupted our institutions, who have betrayed the public good and the values of our constitution for private gain, especially those in the most privileged positions of government and corporate power,” Batohi said.
Her appointment comes three months after the Constitutional Court ruled that the government’s decision to pay Mxolisi Nxasana 17.3 million rand ($1.2 million) to step down from the post was illegal because it constituted an attempt to buy him out of office. The court said the subsequent appointment of Shaun Abrahams was invalid.
While the president has the sole right to decide who heads the NPA, Ramaphosa’s decision to set up an eight-member advisory panel is seen as a step to ensure the appointment is more credible. The panel interviewed 11 contenders for the job and presented Ramaphosa with a shortlist of five names.
An average of 56 homicides a day were reported in South Africa in the 12 months through March, and the national murder rate of 35.2 per 100,000 people is more than six times higher than that of the U.S.
Read more about South Africa’s crime scourge.
“Those elements who insist on frustrating the ends of justice and ultimately, the nation, will not be tolerated,” Batohi said. “Let us not succumb to despair at the thought that the challenges in place are insurmountable.”
(Updates with president’s comments in third paragraph.)
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