PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Director Of Public Prosecutions, National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa
By Nelisiwe Mkhele
Advocate Shamila Batohi was born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. She completed her Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Durban-Westville and her post-graduate law degree at the University of Natal. Advocate Batohi began her career working as a junior prosecutor in the Chatsworth Magistrate's office in 1986. She rose through the ranks to become the Director of Public Prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal from 2000 to 2009. In 2000, Advocate Batohi led the cross-examination for the King Commission, a high-profile commission of inquiry into cricket match-fixing that occurred during the South African cricket team's tour to India.
Advocate Batohi was seconded by former South African President Nelson Mandela to be a part of the prosecutorial team of the Investigation Task Unit (ITU). The ITU was established by President Nelson Mandela in 1995 to investigate politically-driven hit squads within the KwaZulu-Natal police service during the 1980s.
Advocate Batohi served as the first regional head of the Directorate of Special Operations based in KwaZulu-Natal. The Directorate of Special Operations, colloquially known as “The Scorpions," was a specialized unit within the National Prosecuting Authority tasked with investigating high-level crimes, organized crimes, and corruption. Advocate Batohi’s legal expertise was cemented internationally when she became a senior legal advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague from 2009 to 2018. In this role, Advocate Batohi advised on the effects of sexual and gender-based violence being used as tools of war crimes, and the ways the ICC could assist gender violence survivors among others.
In 2018, Advocate Batohi answered the call to return and serve her home country once again. Advocate Batohi made history when she became the first woman to be appointed as the National Director of the Public Prosecuting Authority of South Africa (NDPP) – assuming the role in February 2019. The NDPP has the powers set out in Section 179(5) of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996. She determines prosecution policy (with the concurrence of the Minister of Justice), issues policy directives, intervenes in prosecutions when the policy directives are not complied with, and may review a decision to prosecute or not to prosecute.
Advocate Shamila Batohi is a pioneer woman in law because of her willingness to step into leadership roles that are uncomfortable and her willingness to take matters of corruption head-on. Furthermore, she is one of the living examples of what it means to serve one’s country, especially in moments of great need. Advocate Batohi’s pioneer woman status is best summarised in her own words when she said, “Each moment in time carries with it the full weight of the past, and also the lightness of hope for the future.”