Lindsay Dentlinger26 April 2024 | 12:20

'Impunity is not an option’ – Shamila Batohi marks five years with the NPA

Although the NDPP conceded the authority was still working on stability, she said political interference within the NPA was no longer a factor.

'Impunity is not an option’ – Shamila Batohi marks five years with the NPA

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Advocate Shamila Batohi. Picture: X/@NPA_Prosecutes

CAPE TOWN - After years of turmoil within the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), its National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi has passed the halfway mark of her ten-year term. 

With the exception of the first NDPP, Bulelani Ngcuka, it’s a feat not achieved by her more recent predecessors - none of whom saw out their full term of office.

This milestone also means Batohi has survived a full political term, officially taking office in February 2019, just months before the sixth elections. 

But as she told two media engagements this week - one in Johannesburg and another in Cape Town - it’s not been enough time to completely turn around the beleaguered authority after years of instability caused by state capture. 


“Building strong institutions, which isn’t sexy, which doesn’t make the media, has been really a big part of our focus, whilst we were also trying to build capacity and capability to deal with state capture and corruption matters.” 

However, what Batohi said she could say with certainty was that the NPA was free of the political interference that once dogged it. 

“I can honestly say now, you have an NPA that is not beholden to anyone, whether it’s politicians, whether it’s private sector or the media. We work on the basis of evidence that we have.”

She said while the NPA had overcome its leadership crisis, it remained difficult to attract the skills it so sorely needs to prosecute complex crimes. 

Five years on, she acknowledged her disappointment that the NPA was not as far down the line as she would have hoped in the prosecution of state capture cases. 

Rebuilding the institution during a pandemic consumed three of these years, but now it is able to put shoulder to the wheel to achieve more high-level prosecutions. 

Batohi believes the country is still unfairly judging the progress it is making daily in prosecuting hundreds of corruption cases because it’s not been able to successfully prosecute a state capture case. 

The NPA has 850,000 cases on its books, to be prosecuted with a cohort of around 3,500 prosecutors. 

“It’s a sad reality that the lens through which many South Africans calibrate the success or not of the NPA is the fact that we don’t have any high-level politicians in orange overalls, and we “failed” in three issues - two cases, and the Gupta extradition.” 


Batohi did not deny having these cases thrown out of court being a major setback, and a devastating impact on the NPA. But she said all was not lost. 

“The difference between now and five years’ ago is that impunity is not an option. In the past, those involved in state capture knew they were protected. Even though the wheels of justice take long, those that are involved in various types of criminality know they are not protected. It’s a matter of time before that knock on the door comes.” 

And while the NPA continues to battle the state capture challenges, it’s preparing for the next onslaught it expects to face - organised crime. 

Batohi’s deputy, Anton du Plessis, believes the media has been unforgiving of young, upcoming state prosecutors who take on complex corruption cases against the country’s most senior legal minds, often coupled with political pushback. 

“One slip-up; one mistake. Your name is all over the media the next day. You are absolutely crucified. And it’s very hard to build the confidence of particularly young prosecutors in an environment, that’s this hostile.” 

But he said prosecutors’ commitment to justice, and their bravery, could not be faulted. 

Four gang leaders in the Western Cape are currently being prosecuted for organised crime. 

Batohi said the NPA was also working closely with the South African Revenue Service to move more swiftly on tax corruption.