Publication: Mail and Guardian
Mail and Guardian
You could almost hear the sigh of
disappointment that went out across the country when Willem Heath announced he
would be joining Jacob Zuma’s defence team.
We don’t know much about crusading judges in this country: the inquisitorial
magistrate on a mission is a figure from the Romance legal systems of France,
Spain and Italy. But when Heath was head of the special investigating unit, we
took rather quickly to the idea of an anti-corruption
paladin, with the power to cancel contracts
and bring the mighty to heel.
Patricia de Lille took her famous dossier to him, and defence contractor Richard
Young, who says he was unfairly squeezed out of a contract to supply information
management systems to the navy’s new corvettes, painted
a picture for Heath of the generally corrupt
relationships behind the deal.
But they are only the most vocal. Several other people with compromising
information, and a good deal to fear, trusted him with sensitive documents. Would
they have done so *1 if they had known that he would later be providing
legal advice to one of the central players in the drama? Heath knows who sang,
and why, and he will be able to provide his client with extraordinary insight
into the background to his plight.
Why is he doing this, at what is surely considerable risk to his reputation?
Among his other clients are Brett and Roger Kebble, who believe they were the
victims of a campaign of slander by Bulelani Ngcuka. They are leading proponents
of the line Heath is now retailing -- that Zuma is the target of a political
conspiracy. Did they ask him to enter the lists? Or is he still smarting at his
exclusion by President Thabo Mbeki from the arms deal investigation, and looking
for a way to hit back?
Perhaps he is just an advocate, scratching around for work,
but it is impossible to avoid the impression of dire conflicts of interest, or
to avoid the sense that an early hero of the war against corruption is now a gun
The Democratic Alliance, which likes to represent itself as the last bulwark
against corruption, is complaining loudly about all this, even as it appoints to
a senior job Erik Marais, the man who broke foreign exchange laws to ease
donations from German fraudster Jurgen Harksen into party coffers.
“He’s very capable, he’s a nice person, and I like him,” was the
explanation from Western Cape leader Theuns Botha.
The Harksen affair was just a grubby, regional scandal, and the fallout
from the arms deal is testing the limits of our democracy, but they offer
some lessons in common: hypocrisy in public life is
bottomless, and we should look to robust
institutions to safeguard the principles of the Constitution *2, not
With ackowledgement to the Mail and Guardian
Sadly, the Heath SIU proved in the long run not to be one of these robust
institutions. That this should be so is an insult to the hard work and dedication
of the many lawyers and investigators who worked there.
The entire country (as a whole) was also entirely disappointed with the sum
total of the Heath SIU's short-lived investigation into the Arms Deal.
Apart from the persons mentioned above, there were senior government officials
lined up to give evidence on the irregularities and criminalities involved in
the Arms Deal - but only to an independent SIU, not even to the Office of the
Auditor-General or even to the National Prosecuting Authority and certainly not
to the semi-witted public enquiry of the Office of the Government Public
Protector. This crucial information has never and will probably never see the
light of day.
This can all be blamed on President Thabo Mbeki (then Deputy President Zuma just
signed the letter).
When the SIU suited the Government's agenda, like theft of petty cash out of the
provincial piggy banks, they were allowed to act and even prosper, but when they
got close to sniffing the plump landraces at the deep feeding trough of national
government procurement, the powers of the SIU became very frightening indeed; so
much so that the squeals could be heard and seen on national TV on 19 January
2001 and can be read in two letters of even date.
- plus letter from President T.M. Mbeki to Judge W.H. Heath date 19 January
2001 (coming to VPO soon).
- "Let me show those of you who are watching this
broadcast, two of the documents (organograms) that Judge Heath has.
- Both President Mandela and I authorise Judge Heath and his informants to
release all information they may have as contained in these
19 January 2001
Let the games begin.