Publication: News 24 Issued: Date: 2001-01-30 Reporter: Editor:

Government's Flip-Flop on Heath

Publication  News 24
Date 2001-01-30
Reporter Philip de Bruin
Web Link

Johannesburg - An astonishing turn-about by President Thabo Mbeki and the Minister of Justice, Dr Penuell Maduna, relating to Judge Willem Heath and his special investigation unit (SIU), came to light on Tuesday.

The turn-about during the past three weeks in Mbeki's and Maduna's positions, which has led to Maduna's threat to disband the SIU, as well as the fact that Heath is to resign as head of the unit, was evident in court papers before the Constitutional Court in the case where it was found that Heath's appointment was unconstitutional.

In written arguments presented to the registrar of the Constitutional Court by Mbeki and Maduna's formidable legal team of three advocates in August last year, their attitude towards Heath was vastly different from their recent standpoint of wanting to get rid of Heath as soon as possible.

Certain arguments, made especially by Maduna in public mud-slinging against Heath, also clashed directly with viewpoints contained in the written court submissions.

Pleaded For Heath to be Kept as Unit Head

In the submissions, both Mbeki and Maduna pleaded with the court for Heath to be kept as head of the unit, and to confirm the continuation of the unit, as well as lodging a strong appeal that there was nothing unconstitutional about Heath's appointment as a judge as head of the SIU.

The bomb burst between Heath and the SIU on the one side, and Mbeki and Maduna on the other, when Mbeki refused to allow the SIU as part of the investigation into alleged irregularities in the government's multi-million rand arms transaction, following a recommendation to this effect by Maduna, and in spite of strong pleas to the contrary.

Mbeki and Maduna's latest position was that Heath should pack his bags as soon as possible and leave the SIU. Maduna implied that the SIU itself would be disbanded as soon as the unit's current workload was completed.

But in the August court papers, Maduna and Heath (in an effort to emphasise the importance of the SIU) said: "It is cosmetic to assume that it is the SIU's aim to protect the state. To the contrary, the aim of the SIU is to investigate irregular practices and administration in the state's ranks, and to protect the public".

'Heath Not Wearing Judge's Hat in SIU'

And in a plea to retain Heath as head of the unit: "Judge Heath does not wear the hat of a judge in his capacity as head of the SIU".

Later in the court papers, Mbeki and Maduna expressed themselves even more strongly in favour of the retention of Heath and the SIU. "The law (by which the SIU was established) is an important pillar in the fight against corruption. It would be detrimental to good governance if the investigations of the SIU were stopped.

"It (the finding that an article in the Act stipulating that a judge had to be head of the SIU was unconstitutional) would effectively mean that Heath will be stripped of all powers."

With acknowledgement to Philip de Bruin and News24.