Shaik's Future in Hands of 'Stern Grandfather'
Stern, a rigid upholder of the legal process, seemingly implacable, somewhat crotchety and easily irritated are some of the descriptions used to characterise Judge Hilary Squires, called back from retirement to preside over the corruption and bribery trail of businessman Schabir Shaik.
At 73 the judge is the epitome of old-school fair play.
Yet some may find the choice of this retired grandfather odd, even extraordinary, given his background as a former high court judge in Zimbabwe as a one-time minister of justice, law and order in Ian Smith's Rhodesian government. He was described as "Herr Squires" in David Caute's book Under the Skin : The Death of White Rhodesia, an exhaustive anti-white account of the Rhodesian war.
Not that the man destined, some may speculate somewhat reluctantly, to take on one of the most defining roles in South Africa's recent history, is prepared to talk about any of that.
A ring of silence has been placed around him and his close family in the run-up to the case.
"I really can't speak to you about anything," was his response from his Cowies Hill home. "I can only talk to you after the trial is over." He was also not prepared to be photographed, accepting that if an out-of-date picture of him were used that would have to do. "I haven't changed much in 30 years," he said wryly.
The 12-line curriculum vitae supplied for the occasion is short and sharp, beginning with his graduation from the University of Cape Town with a BA LLB in 1955 and ending with his recall to service for this trial "in terms of section 7 of the Judges Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act of 2001". (According to this legislation, judges who have served 15 years and who retire before the cut-off age of 75 can be called on to act for three months of every year).
One also learns that he practised as an advocate in the former Rhodesia, was appointed to the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia high court in 1979, resigned in 1984 to settle in Durban where he again practised as an advocate and was permanently appointed to the Natal Provincial Division in 1988, retiring in 2003, aged 70. His high profile trials include the Shobashobane massacre.
The CV does not hint at the irritation he has with cellphones. On one occasion he confiscated one that went off while his court was in session and it was only returned after the trial.
He has also shown compassion. In 1997 Shobashobane trial he sentenced a 15-year-old to an effective two years' imprisonment for his part in the 1995 Christmas day massacre on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, stating that, while it was important that the youth understand the severity of his actions and be punished, it was also "important that he be given the opportunity to change his life for the better".
It was at the end of this case that the ANC, in accepting the conviction and sentence of 13 Inkhatha Freedom Party leaders and members who carried out the massacre, also welcomed the fact that the courts in KwaZulu-Natal had joined the fight against "political violence and the culture of impunity".
After the Squires judgement, the ANC, prophetically as it happens, said that "no political party must shield or harbour criminals within its ranks".
Vuka Tshabalala, the Natal judge president, believes that Squires is the right man for the Shaik trial.
"It will make life easier for all," Tshabalala said of the appointment, adding that "the case may take long and may stop and start and this would be destructive for the functioning of the court. At least a retired judge doesn't have to worry about all the other things he still has to do."
Security and safety is quite clearly an issue in the Shaik case, with fortunes, contracts, careers and lifestyles on the line. So too is the issue of political sensitivity.
Tomorrow as he takes his place in the Durban high court, Judge Squires will have to decide on whether television cameras will be allowed to record the proceedings live, something no other judge in a criminal trial in South Africa has had to do.
A man of few words outside the courtroom, a man who is "decidedly low profile", his feelings on the matter are surprising. According to Brian Galgut, the acting judge president (Tshabalala is on leave until tomorrow), the honourable judge has "no objection in principle" to the trial being televised, subject to certain considerations.
It won't be an easy decision. The public interest factor cannot be argued, though the judge, while agreeable on the idea of television coverage, will want to avoid having his courtroom turned into a political battleground. He tried to avoid this outcome in the Shobashobane massacre but failed.
If he agrees he will have his work cut out deciding on the merits of each witness who "might not be able to think clearly" if they knew their evidence was being broadcast live.
E.tv, the contesting television station, will be making the case that it is in the public interest to televise the proceedings.
Squires has been described by colleagues as a "conservative man of high principles who enjoyed the outdoors and is in excellent health". He will face a daunting trial schedule, including weighing up the testimony of more than 100 national and international witnesses, from Nelson Mandela's lawyer (some have speculated Madiba himself) to heavyweight global arms dealers, from politicians to policemen, and accountants to clothing merchants.
Central to this melting pot of intrigue and mystery that may well belong on the pages of a John le Carré thriller, is a "top-secret" report that many speculate could decide the fate of Zuma when it is submitted as evidence.
The learned judge will be well aware of the 250-page forensic report drawn up under tight security by the international auditors KPMG.
The "hotter than hot" report provides forensic details of payments that allegedly prove an extensive financial relationship between Zuma and Shaik, his financial adviser.
But, say those who know the judge and his work well, he will keep a completely clear mind. His mind will be focused on facts, not suggestion.
However, a huge responsibility rests on his shoulders. One legal source described the upcoming trial as "South Africa's definitive theatre of profit and greed".
It is not yet known whether Zuma will be called as a witness. That decision might have to rest with the judge, who will be well acquainted with the fact that the deputy president's name appears on almost every page of Shaik's 45-page charge sheet and forms part of a paper trail of evidence consisting of thousands of pages of documents and annexures.
Television or no television, the public will be riveted to every detail - with charges against Shaik coming thick and fast and the forensic report expected to blow the lid on the activities of 10 other politicians and officials who were bankrolled by Shaik in return for business favours. Corruption, bribery and money laundering are just the beginning of the story.
It will be up to the previously retired Judge Squires, whose courtroom will be circled by a "ring of steel", to provide the ending.
With acknowledgements to Liz Clarke and the Sunday Independent.