Spotlight: ISS expands its partnership with the National Prosecuting Authority


The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is providing research and technical support to help South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) rebuild its capacity after years of damaging political interference. The project aims to improve the NPA’s ability to deliver against its constitutional mandate to promote the rule of law by prosecuting without fear, favour or prejudice.

The work of the ISS is guided by its strategic plan and organisational goals. A key objective is to collaborate with government and civil society to improve the performance of the criminal justice system, and help develop a high-functioning independent prosecuting authority. This is central to the ISS vision of enhancing human security as a means to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity in Africa.

ISS support aligns with the NPA’s requirements and is confined to the prosecuting authority’s strategic, managerial and administrative functions. It has no bearing on specific case work and prosecutions.

The project is funded by ISS’s local and international core and project donors, including dedicated support from the Open Society Foundations and its Open Society Justice Initiative

Procedures are being established to ensure that external support to the NPA is compatible with its need to maintain prosecutorial independence. These include an external assistance coordination mechanism, and an oversight committee consisting of independent, respected individuals including retired members of the judiciary.

Leading provider of technical support across Africa

The ISS has been providing technical assistance for nearly two decades to a variety of organisations, including the United Nations, African Union, regional economic communities, and the police, prosecution services, judiciary, journalists and civil society in many African countries. With its skilled staff and forward-thinking approaches to capacity building, the ISS is a trusted, independent and capable partner committed to the best interests of Africa.

In 2018, the ISS delivered more than 50 technical support activities across Africa. Examples include developing strategies on counter-terrorism, maritime safety, conflict prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction and development. The regional police counter-terrorism training manual written by the ISS is a key part of its support to centres of excellence for forensic science in Khartoum, and counter-terrorism in Nairobi. In 2018, the ISS developed a crime prevention and safety strategy for the Namibian government.

In 2018, the ISS delivered more than 50 technical support activities across Africa

In South Africa, ISS technical support shaped legislation governing South Africa’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate – contributing to a stronger regulatory body for preventing abuse of police power. The ISS recently established a national Violence Prevention Forum that brings together government departments, non-governmental organisations, academics and the private sector to promote evidence-based solutions to violence. In 2019 ISS was invited by the Gauteng Premier to join a technical committee tasked with developing a safety strategy for the province.

ISS support to the NPA spans more than a decade, and includes an annual training programme for prosecutors dealing with cases of organised crime, international crimes and terrorism. The current project began in February 2019, and expands the long-standing partnership between the ISS and the NPA.

Impact of political interference on the criminal justice system

One of former president Jacob Zuma’s objectives after coming to power in 2009 was to seize control of the entire criminal justice system, including the NPA. Facing charges of grand corruption, he ensured that a dysfunctional organisation was unable to prosecute many serious crimes. Interference in the NPA helped to entrench state capture and ensured impunity for Zuma, his allies and their patronage networks.

President Cyril Ramaphosa made rebuilding the NPA a priority of his new administration. In December 2018 veteran prosecutor, Advocate Shamila Batohi, returned to South Africa from the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to become the NPA’s new National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP).

She found an organisation in crisis, with a budget shortfall of more than R120 million and 20% fewer staff than were needed. Appointments and promotions were frozen, senior posts were vacant and many people had either left or had been in acting roles for more than five years. Staff morale was low and some senior prosecutors were implicated in corruption or unethical conduct.  

Batohi pledged to make the NPA a prosecuting authority South Africans could be proud of. She spoke of a historic opportunity to restore the prosecuting authority’s reputation, fulfil its constitutional mandate, and ensure NPA staff deliver on its values.

ISS is helping to bring solutions to the NPA’s operational and institutional challenges

She acknowledged the organisation had failed the nation, and affirmed the NPA’s renewed commitment to put justice first and serve as lawyers for the people. ‘My vision is to rebuild and lead a trusted and effective prosecution service that ensures justice to all South Africans through independent, professional and victim-centred service delivery,’ Batohi said. ‘This vision is upheld by the pillars of credibility, independence, professionalism and accountability.’

ISS technical support for the NPA

ISS research and technical assistance is helping to develop a strategic support and innovation capacity in the NDPP’s office, to bring solutions to the NPA’s operational and institutional challenges.

‘Building an effective state and meeting South Africa’s development aims requires a commitment to the rule of law delivered by criminal justice institutions that operate ethically, impartially, and with administrative rigour,’ says ISS executive director Anton du Plessis.

The ISS designed and helped facilitate a May 2019 strategic planning conference for 160 senior NPA managers and prosecutors. The first all-staff survey in the history of the NPA was conducted, showing employees their opinions matter and providing the NPA’s leadership with a clear staff mandate for organisational reform.

An analysis of budgets and capacity demonstrated that the NPA needs more resources to fulfil its constitutional mandate. This includes staff for the new Investigating Directorate, lawyers with expertise in commercial crime and asset forfeiture prosecutions, and 200 new entry-level prosecutors. The ISS is helping the NPA senior team to motivate for enhanced operational and financial independence as a full department with its own budget and accounting officer.

A professional development and capacity building programme for the NPA is being developed to address a current lack of training and career progression – one of the key issues identified in the staff survey as affecting morale and performance.

For more information contact:

Gareth Newham, ISS: +27 82 887 1557, [email protected]

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