Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2001-03-08 Reporter: Marelize Stiemie Editor:

Heath Fears for his Safety

Publication  News24
Date 2001-03-08
Reporter Marelize Stiemie
Web Link

East London - Justice Willem Heath fears for his and his family's safety. He is convinced he is being followed, and has doubts about how secure his private telephone calls are, he said on Thursday during an interview in his partially-cleared office at the Special Investigation Unit.

He has made a point of not making telephone calls from his office, and he no longer has his own cellphone. Since the beginning of January he has changed his home telephone number "for security reasons".

The last few months have been a period of disappointment and worry for him. The 56-year-old judge went on long leave at the beginning of last month after the Constitutional Court decided that a judge may not head a special investigation unit.

The judge said he had received information that he was being followed in December, January and February. During his recent visit to Kenya it became clear to him that he was being followed "all the time".

He said "Yes, I am worried about my and my family's safety. My wife is also very concerned about my safety. There is actually nothing one can do about it. The minister (Penuell Maduna) said in a statement yesterday that I should lay charges at the police. Everything is so vague that there is no specific evidence to present to the police.

'I Will Not be Intimidated'

"I have had calls from people, and members of the unit have told me I am being followed. In Kenya it was done openly. However, I will not allow myself to be intimidated."

Heath said he was extremely disappointed that the special investigation unit had not received support rather than the "attacks that have been launched against us".

He said similar units in other countries enjoyed a lot of support. "It is our viewpoint that the unit is not political - it is the politicians that have politicised it."

Heath gave as an example the arms procurement deal, concerning which he was approached on several occasions by the media for comment. "This led to me being attacked on a personal level."

He said the Special Investigation Unit had recovered about R2 billion in state assets. This would have been higher if the president had signed more proclamations for the unit to investigate.

"Since 1999 there have been very few proclamations." There were a few amendments to proclamations which had been requested by the unit. "Effectively there were no proclamations, with the result that the unit did not recover nearly as much during the last financial year."

Bigger Budget Would Have Paid Off

It has been claimed that the unit is overloaded with work. According to Heath there is a simple solution - the unit should have had a bigger budget so it could expand its work. "The government would have got back every cent, and more."

As to whether he would stay on as head of the SIU, he said this would only be possible if there was a change to the appropriate legislation and to the Constitution. "I have now learnt my lesson as to how sensitive the unit's position is as a result of gaps in the legislation."

Heath believes corruption is rampant. There was a time when the effectiveness of the unit served as a deterrent, as corruption was exposed.

"For years there was a feeling that people could get away with corruption. For a few years this was exposed and corruption decreased, but now things are going back to the bad old days," said Heath.

With acknowledgment to Marelize Stiemie and News24.