CITING threats and intimidation from his colleagues, the head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Priority Crimes Litigation Unit, Anton Ackermann, has switched sides and come out in support of a landmark legal bid to compel SA to prosecute high-level Zimbabwean officials accused of crimes against humanity.
The North Gauteng High Court yesterday postponed the case brought by the Southern African Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum until today, after the centre had applied to file a replying affidavit by Mr Ackermann.
In a stunning reversal, Mr Ackermann broke ranks and filed an affidavit that indicated he had recommended an investigation of the Zimbabwean officials, had disagreed with the police’s reasons for not pursuing the case, and had been manipulated and misled by both his colleagues in the NPA and the state advocate’s office.
The Priority Crimes Litigation Unit is a specialist unit that, among other duties, tackles cases that relate to the International Criminal Court (ICC). SA is obliged under the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC, to enforce international criminal law within its borders, including torture, and crimes against humanity.
The NPA said last night no disciplinary action had been taken yet against Mr Ackermann.
“Management is still reflecting on all the developments around the affidavit and will determine what to do in due course,” NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said.
The case brought by the centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum seeks to review and set aside the decision of the NPA and the South African Police Service not to probe Zimbabwean officials linked to acts of state-sanctioned torture after a police raid on the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change in Harare in 2007.
The forum’s chairman, Gabriel Shumba, said yesterday that Mr Ackermann’s willingness to come forward with his side of the story, despite the fact that it could severely compromise his career, demonstrated his integrity and his commitment to dispense justice independently and without fear, favour or prejudice.
“It is sad to think that he is likely to be punished for seeking to do his job properly.”
In his affidavit, Mr Ackermann said he had sought to be represented in this matter from some time before February 2010, when it became clear his version of the facts and the reasons for decisions in the matter would differ from those of the national director.
“I have been refused representation, at first on the basis that my version was irrelevant and inadmissible, and later that it would be incorporated into the national director of public prosecutions ’ answering papers,” he said.
In July 2008, his unit recommended to then acting national prosecutions director Mokotedi Mpshe and then acting head of the national prosecuting service Sibongile Mzinyathi that the Zimbabwe matter be investigated.
Mr Ackermann said he would have expected the police service to take “normal steps associated with investigating any crime”, including opening a docket, assigning an investigation officer, taking witness statements and submitting the docket to the NPA for a decision whether or not to prosecute.
” Towards the end of 2008, they conveyed to me that the South African Police Service orally indicated to them that the (police) would not investigate the matter,” his affidavit read.
“I urged Mpshe to obtain the police’ s refusal to investigate the matter in writing, as I was aware that a refusal was likely to lead to a review application by (the centre and the forum),” Mr Ackermann said.
New national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane then appointed his deputy, Silas Ramaite, and Chris Macadam to represent him. “During discussions with Ramaite and Macadam regarding this application it transpired that we held different views on the matter,” Mr Ackermann said.
These discussions culminated in an e-mail dated January 27 2010 from Mr Macadam, which was written to dissuade him from placing his views on the decision of the police not to investigate before the court.
The e-mail stated that if inserted into an affidavit by Mr Simelane, Mr Ackermann’s views would “be interpreted as an attempt to cast doubt on the reasons relied on by (acting national police commissioner Tim) Williams, Mpshe and advocate Simelane and (police) commissioner (Bheki) Cele”.
The e-mail continued, saying that the “court would be required to make findings on your ethical conduct which could result in further action being taken against you”.