Bulelani Ngcuka was born on 2 May 1954 in Middledrift, Eastern Cape. His early schooling was in the former Bantustan of Transkei. He later married Phumzile Ngcuka. Phumzile Ngcuka became the Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs in Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet. Together, they have a 15-year-old son named Loyiso Ngcuka.
In 1977 Ngcuka completed his B Proc degree at the University of Fort Hare. In 1980 he was admitted to the legal profession as an Attorney. He began his active political life when he joined the United Democratic Front. He was later arrested for three years on charges of high treason against the apartheid state. His crime was that he had refused to testify against some of the UDF members he had represented in different legal cases. While in prison he furthered his studies with the University of South Africa and completed an LLB degree (legal degree). He went on to complete a Master of Arts degree in international relations with the University of Webster.
In 1998 Bulelani Ngcuka was appointed to one of South Africa’s highest legal offices, the Head of the National Prosecuting Authority. The opposition parties opposed his appointment on the grounds that Ngcuka was already too involved in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to exercise judicial independence. Ngcuka proved many of his critics wrong by first creating a very efficient prosecuting authority, and pursuing some popular and highly placed ANC figures for corruption. Among these were Chief Whip of the ANC Tony Yengeni and Deputy President Jacob Zuma. He investigated abuse of power allegations. This concerned improper influence in a controversial South African arms deal, and the question of financial benefit as a result of such influence. He concluded his investigation against Jacob Zuma by stating that there was prima facie evidence of corruption, but insufficient to win the case in court. Some people in the opposition and legal profession complained that by saying this, he was acting as prosecutor and judge: if there is prima facie evidence, then the courts should decide on its sufficiency. This case brought him in direct confrontation with leading figures of the African National Congress.
Schabir Schaik, Mac Maharaj, and Vusi Mona, all facing investigation by Ngcuka, made allegations that he was once an apartheid spy against the ANC. Their counter-allegations were that such investigations against them and Zuma were part of a conspiracy by former apartheid agents, still in government to undermine the ANC and leaders of the struggle. They accused him of spying against the ANC while working for NADEL in the Eastern Cape. President Thabo Mbeki appointed the Hefer Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations against Ngcuka. The Commission found that the allegations had no basis.