Publication: The Mercury Issued: Date: 2001-01-21 Reporter: Boyd Webb and Andre Koopman Editor:

Crying De Lille Tells of Threats in Arms Saga 

Publication  The Mercury
Date 2001-01-21
Reporter Boyd Webb and 
Andre Koopman
Web Link

Patricia de Lille, the feisty Pan Africanist Congress MP, burst into tears on Sunday as she gave an account of death threats she has been receiving for her stance on the controversy involving the government and Judge Willem Heath.

Her emotional reaction came before a landmark meeting on Monday of the parliamentary select committee on public accounts, which has been at the heart of the controversy about the investigation into South Africa's R43-billion arms deal.

The meeting and its outcome could determine whether the country faces a crisis of public confidence in the government's will to deal with corruption.

'I am more concerned about my family'

De Lille told of another death threat after President Thabo Mbeki announced that Judge Willem Heath would not be part of the investigation into the deal.

"I am more concerned about my family. I am a fighter, a street fighter and I will fight back," she said, wiping away tears.

De Lille instigated the investigation, saying she had received incriminating evidence implicating high-ranking government officials in the deal.

On Monday the PAC will be inviting other political parties to join it in an attempt to take the government to court over the probe.

Parliamentary committees start work on Monday with the trend-setting meeting of the select committee on public accounts, which will determine whether parliament and its committees will assert their independence and critical role or whether they will be cowed by pressures from the executive.

The committee, which took the lead in scrutinising the deal and recommended that the Heath investigative unit be part of a probe into the "murky" arms deal, has come under increasing pressure from the government to scale back its actions.

Its chairman, Gavin Woods of the IFP, has faced a harrowing time since the committee made its recommendations in November.

He has also received death threats and on Friday was visibly shaken when he revealed he had received a hostile letter from Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

This was during a day of high drama, in which the director-general in the presidency, Frank Chikane, announced on television that Judge Heath would not be part of the arms probe since the Constitutional Court had directed he be relieved of his duties without undue delay. This was followed by a statement from Mbeki in which he outlined reasons for his decision.

Political analysts believe developments in parliament this session will essentially determine its role in the country's democracy.

ANC members of the select committee on public accounts, who had taken the lead in rigorously questioning senior state officials and defence officials about the deal, had become reticent about it and had faced "inordinate pressure", according to a senior ANC member.

Some quarters have also expressed grave disappointment about the role of the national assembly speaker, Frene Ginwala, who has a reputation as a champion of parliament, in the controversy. She has come under a full-scale attack from the Democratic Alliance for her perceived weakness in protecting the institution of parliament and its independence.

Despite the heavyweights in the background pushing for an exhaustive probe, ANC members on the committee had been the public face of the move in parliament.

Ginwala's statements were significant in that she was essentially leaving them to "hang in the wind", said a senior ANC member.

Reacting to DA criticism that she had let parliament down, Ginwala said that - according to the parliamentary law adviser - the committee's report on the matter "did not amount to a recommendation to the executive to refer the matter in question to the (Heath) unit".

With acknowledgement to Boyd Webb, Andre Koopman and Independent Online.