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OPINION: Why you should care about the NPA & Nxasana

On Sunday afternoon, President Jacob Zuma's office released a statement confirming that a settlement agreement had been reached with the head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Mxolisi Nxasana. He had agreed to leave his position and an inquiry into his fitness to hold office would fall away.

The announcement didn't exactly rock our worlds or send shockwaves through society. We all knew it was coming and, in fact, some in the non-news world responded with confusion in a "Didn't that already happen?" kind of way.

Also, it's not exactly uncommon for an NPA head to resign or be fired or be suspended or be replaced. It's the norm really. So much so that not one single National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) has ever served out their full term. Bulelani Ngcuka had the whole Hefer commission saga and allegations of being an apartheid era spy that ushered him out the door. Vusi Pikoli endured the Ginwala commission of inquiry and finally agreed to a settlement rather than a prolonged court battle. Menzi Simelane suffered the shame of a Constitutional Court ruling that sent him packing.

The circumstances around Nxasana's departure are shrouded in the requisite mystery - ostensibly, he left because of an impending inquiry into his fitness to hold office around his non-disclosure of a murder charge he was acquitted on forever ago. Who knows why he really cleaned out his desk though. The popular money is on the fact he probably wasn't malleable or compromising enough for the political powers.

So clearly you would have been forgiven for reacting with a shrug of the shoulders and an "Oh, it's just another golden handshake for another public servant". Nxasana will just be replaced by another NDPP who will find him or herself at the center of swirling controversy. Why should the man in the street care at all?

Here's why.

The NPA is the link between the police officers who investigate crimes and the judiciary who preside over trials. It is up to prosecutors to provide direction on these investigations. It is the advocates who must prepare a case to make sure it is admissible before a court. They have a responsibility on behalf of you and me, the public, and have to competently represent us or else the entire system is skewed. If they don't present all the evidence properly, then the balance is thrown out of kilter. It is essential therefore that prosecutors are utterly and completely independent. If they are biased in any way, shape or form, the whole criminal justice system is undermined. Then the rule of law, which is the central principle of our country's Constitution, can no longer be upheld.

Simply, this will then mean that the country will be lawless. The rules will no longer govern us and the guy with the biggest gun will be king. It will be about money and power and influence and corruption. It will mean that not everyone will be equal before the law and the Orwellian principles of some being more equal than others will play out in reality.

As a regular citizen, this could seep down and influence you directly. Hypothetically, if you are a complainant in a case against someone with more money or sway than you, your chances of receiving justice will be considerably diminished. It won't matter if your case is stronger, or if the law is theoretically on your side.

That is why it is absolutely fundamental that the person at the helm of the organisation is beyond reproach, that he or she has integrity and freedom and independence. They must be allowed to apply the law without any kind of fear or favour. It is for this reason that we have to know whether Nxasana was pushed out of his job because he made decisions that were unpopular with those in political power. If he was sidelined because he had too much integrity and that positioned the wrong people within the sights of the law, the public must be told.

This will mean that the rule of law has been undermined and that we are on a slippery slope. That will end with the guy with the biggest gun being king and that is why you should care about Nxasana and his job.

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener

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