Despite “conceding” that former prosecutions head Mxolisi Nxasana was not on the verge of reinstating criminal charges against him, former president Jacob Zuma wanted Nxasana gone anyway, the Zondo commission heard on Monday.
Nxasana’s first appearance before the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture — chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo — was in June. The evidence he gave on Monday was a continuation of his earlier testimony which is related to allegations of capture at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Nxasana was at the helm of the NPA for less than two years before he resigned with a golden handshake in the face of an inquiry into his fitness for office.
However, the former director of public prosecutions has long insisted that he was fit for office and that he had never asked to resign, contrary to what Zuma has previously said in court papers.
He repeated this assertion before the Zondo commission.
During Nxasana’s brief tenure, tensions and factional infighting in the NPA escalated and spilled out into the public domain. In Nxasana’s stand-off with his former deputy, Nomgcobo Jiba, he approached the president asking him to suspend Jiba, pending an inquiry into her fitness for office. Jiba had been the subject of criticism in a number of politically sensitive court judgments. Instead, it was he who was suspended facing a fitness inquiry, the former NPA boss said.
Nxasana told the Zondo commission that he had not been a part of any faction, but that Jiba was “resentful” that he had gotten the top job. Nxasana added that Jiba had orchestrated a campaign against him, which included circulating a rumour that Nxasana was about to reinstate corruption charges against Zuma and instructed her juniors to find “dirt” on him.
Nxasana told the commission he had gotten wind of these rumours, but he had not even seen the Zuma docket as it was still in Jiba’s possession. When he sought to meet with the president over the rumours, he struggled and felt that there were people who did not want them to meet.
When he finally did meet Zuma — when he was on the verge of seeking an interdict to prevent his removal — Nxasana said he told the president that he was being misled about the reinstatement of charges. According to the former NPA boss, the president “ultimately conceded that he was misled.” Yet Zuma was still “so intent” that he should leave, Nxasana told the Zondo commission.
Nxasana was closely questioned by Zondo about the timeline, and clarified, after going back to check the correspondence that, in fact, the memorandum to the president seeking a disciplinary process against Jiba had come after Zuma had told him that he intended to institute an inquiry into Nxasana’s fitness for office.
However even before July 2014, when Zuma had notified him of his intention to institute an inquiry, the president had wanted him to leave, Nxasana said.
“Whenever I spoke to President Zuma, we would speak, I would put my side of the story and persuade him; and he would be getting to understand me, but at the end he would come to say ‘no, mfanakithi but I think we must just settle this, you have to leave and you have to sort out your issues with my legal team of how you vacate the office’,” Nxasana said.
Just prior to the letter from Zuma, he was under the impression that Zuma had changed his mind and that he was not going to institute an inquiry, but then “he somersaulted” and sent the letter, said Nxasana.
He said that, nonetheless, he “remained steadfast” that he was fit and proper and that there was no reason for him to leave.