Shaun Abrahams (Shaun Kevin Abrahams) is a South African lawyer and the former national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) at the National Prosecuting Authority. He was born in the Western Cape but Abrahams considers himself “a Zulu boy” because he spent so much of his childhood in KwaZulu-Natal, he told City Press soon after his appointment. He earned his law degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is the youngest of the five people who’ve held the job as head of the NPA in its 17-year history. (NDPP). Shaun Abrahams accumulated vast experience and gained impeccable technical expertise.
Eager, hard-working, ambitious – that’s how Shaun Abrahams’ former colleagues described him soon after the advocate was appointed head of the NPA. Little over a year later, the decisions Abrahams has made as head of an organisation whose mission is to prosecute without fear, favour or prejudice have not inspired the same kind of confidence among South Africans in general.
His announcement that the NPA would charge finance minister Pravin Gordhan with fraud was dismissed as laughable by several academics and legal experts. On social media many labelled him a Zuma puppet without backbone or integrity. Abrahams maintains there was no political interference in either his decision to prosecute Gordhan or his decision to appeal against the judgment of the high court in Pretoria that 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering be reinstated against Zuma. “Whatever decision I make will no doubt elicit criticism from some or other quarter,” Abrahams said last year.
“No decision will please all of the people. There’s no person or entity on earth who can influence me in making any decision,” he said in response to criticism that he takes orders from Zuma. “I’m not a politician and I have no interest to be one.”
Shaun Kevin Abrahams Biography and Profile
Adv Abrahams has over 17 years of experience in the prosecution service. South African former President Jacob Zuma appointed advocate Shaun Abrahams as the National Director of Public Prosecutions.
Advocate Abrahams, a career prosecutor, was appointed to the position of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) of the Republic of South Africa on 18 June 2015, three months after his 38th birthday, making him the youngest of all his predecessors to hold this all important position.
He previously served as an Acting Special Director of Public Prosecutions for a period of some 17 months, heading the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit (PCLU) in the Office of the NDPP, which unit is mandated to manage investigations and prosecutions of crimes impacting on the security of the Republic of South Africa, nationally and internationally.
He read the degrees Baccalaureus Iuris (B Iuris), Baccalaureus Procurationis (B Proc) and Bachelor of laws (LLB), part-time at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg. He was first issued a delegation to prosecute in February 1997 and has prosecuted in numerous high profile cases over the years, rendered technical legal advice in others, transferred forensic legal skills and experience to colleagues within the NPA, those in the private sector and to other stakeholders, embracing equity and transformation.
He has an incredible work ethic, having consistently received meritorious awards for his outstanding professional performances almost annually from 2000 up until his appointment as National Director. During 2012/2013 he was recognised as the Best Specialist Prosecutor and was awarded for his Excellence in the Prosecution of Crimes that Impact on the Security of the Republic.
He has extensive experience on counter-terrorism, terror financing and related matters and has been accredited to having successfully prosecuted the only 2 terrorism related matters in contravention of South Africa’s domestic counter-terrorism legislation, one of which was a historical extra-territorial prosecution expounded on the international principle aut dedere aut judicare (extradite or prosecute) [S v Henry Okah, (Nigerian terrorist; leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)].
The Institute of Security Studies (ISS) described this prosecution as a victory for Africa in the fight against terror.
In March 2014, he was elected by the Executive of the Africa Prosecutors Association (APA) as the lead drafter of a Counter-Terrorism Training Manual for prosecutors on the African continent. The draft manual, crafted jointly with the ISS, was timeously completed within the very pressing timeframe, having been launched at the APA’s Annual Conference in the Côte d’Ivoire during October 2014.
By virtue of his position as the National Director for the Republic of South Africa, he now serves on the Executive Committee of the APA as the Treasurer-General.
In April 2016, he presented the inaugural Joan Kagezi Guest Lecture in Kampala, Uganda. Joan, who was an outstanding counter-terrorism and international law Ugandan prosecutor, was assassinated the year before.
He has been described by a well-respected senior Judge as, inter alia, exceptionally competent, hard-working, very proficient in forensic skills, a masterful cross-examiner and whose experience, integrity, honesty, leadership, character, conscientiousness and general demeanour are valued and respected.
Here are quick facts about Shaun Kevin Abrahams that you might not have known:
- His favourite movie is Gladiator. “It tells you a lot about my character,” he joked.
- He prosecuted his first case in 1997, when he was 21. Abrahams, who is now 39, joked at his introduction that he has aged in the two weeks since Zuma appointed him.
- He reads a lot, but hasn’t had a chance to read a novel since his appointment. “I love reading, but for the last two weeks since I started this job I haven’t gotten a chance. All I am reading at the moment is reports on various matters.”
- He has three favourite cases. Abrahams singled out the case against the men who tried to assassinate exiled former Rwandan general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, the case against convicted Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah, and the case against the Phalaborwa terrorists who tried to bomb ANC leaders’ homes.
- “Those three stand out… I have even prosecuted [late AWB leader] Eugene Terre’blanche. There are many cases I have prosecuted and they all have different lessons.”
- His mother’s nickname for him “Pikkewyntjie” (Penguin) came about because of the way he used to walk as a baby. “A mother’s love has no bounds – [she would even] divulge a nickname. I started walking, or shuffling when I was 8-months-old… that shows that I was strong. [However] I shuffled like penguin,” he explained.
- He is one of five children, with three brothers, Neil, Kelvin and Vincent, and a sister, Lynn.
- His mother cooks one of his favourite meals, tripe curry, for him when he visits their home in Pietermaritzburg. “One of the things he loves when he comes home is tripe curry. And I know I must have it ready when he’s down,” his mother, Anne, told The Witness.
- His family moved from Standerton to Pietermaritzburg in 1984 where he attended Woodlands Primary School and Haythorne High.
- His mother says he was rugby mad at school and not very academic. “He was really not an academic boy. Always rugby, rugby, rugby. I would battle to get that child to study,” his mother said. He played flyhalf for the Young Lions and Collegians rugby clubs in Pietermaritzburg.
- The late attorney general of KwaZulu-Natal, Tim McNally, encouraged him to study law.
What People Are Saying About Shaun Abrahams
Soon after his appointment as NPA director his mother, Anne, a former teacher, said the only one she can thank for her son’s successes is God.
“I get onto my hands and knees every day and pray for my children, so I know it wasn’t the president who put Shaun in that position, it was God,” she said from her Pietermaritzburg home.
She still calls him by his childhood nickname, “Pikkewyntjie” (little penguin).
“Sometimes he thinks he’s in court and argues with me and I just have to look at him and say, ‘Pikkewyntjie, this is your mother you’re speaking to.’ He isn’t emotional but he’ll sympathise with you. He’s a strong person you can lean on in times of trouble.”
Basil Manuel, describes him as “a good pupil and studious young man”.
“He played rugby and did pretty well in that too,” Manuel says, adding that Abrahams went on to play club rugby for the Young Lions, Maritzburg Blues and Collegians.
Professor Steven Friedman of the Centre for the Study of Democracy half-jokingly said on radio he thinks Abrahams “should be prosecuted for appearing in public disguised as a lawyer”.
“Abrahams’ claim that he’s not doing this for political reasons is clearly laughable,” he added.
Judge Johann Kriegler, retired justice of the constitutional court, says he has no reason to think Abrahams is doing Zuma’s bidding.
“I don’t like what he’s doing but I can’t accuse him of taking orders from the president.”
But Judge Kriegler is critical of Abrahams for hosting a media briefing about the fraud charges against Gordhan, saying he doesn’t believe prosecutors should speak on public platforms about cases they’re going to bring against people.
“I don’t think that’s the way we should be running our court cases.”
- Shaun Kevin Abrahams Biography and Profile (Goodreadbiography / Shaun-Kevin-Abrahams / News 24)