Clear, certain and sharp action is needed to restore the integrity of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), David Unterhalter SC told a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday.
Unterhalter argued on behalf of the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law that Shaun Abrahams, national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), and his deputies, Torie Pretorius and Sibongile Mzinyathi, must be suspended pending an inquiry into their fitness to hold office.
The organisations believe the decision to first charge Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and his former colleagues at South African Revenue Service (Sars), Oupa Magahsula and Ivan Pillay with fraud "punched a hole in the economy" and caused harm to the integrity of the office of the NDPP and the institution of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Court 6E is filled with advocates and lawyers hoping to glimpse the analytical skills of some the country's top legal minds. Besides Unterhalter, SC's Ishmael Semenya, Jaap Cilliers. Dumisa Ntsebeza and Hilton Epstein are also on the bill.
Unterhalter told Justices Mlambo, Ledwaba and Khubishi President Jacob Zuma was compelled to institute a proper and timeous inquiry given the facts on the table. He acknowledged a process has been put in motion — Zuma gave the three until the end of the month to supply him with reasons why they should not be suspended — but argued it must not be "open-ended".
"He takes months and months and months to make a decision. In the meantime, should the triumvirate remain in their positions as the leadership, they will continue to do damage to the institution. And the public will continue to question whether the NPA conducts its business independently."
Unterhalter, an eloquent speaker who is also a distinguished law professor, likened the NPA to a crashed plane. "These three [Abrahams, Pretorius and Mzinyathi] have crashed the plane, but now want to go back into the cockpit."
Semenya is appearing on behalf of the president and has argued the application is not urgent and an abuse of process.