Why Willem Heath is heathering on dangerous grounds

President Jacob Zuma’s newly appointee and head of Special Investigating Unit, Willem Heath, might be messing up with the wrong man. Or rather, he might find himself in trouble for the defamatory allegations he made about former president Thabo Mbeki in an interview with City Press last week Sunday.

This after he said Mbeki had “initiated Zuma’s prosecution”, and that “not only as far as the corruption charges were, but also on the rape case”. Heath claimed that the rape charge against Zuma “was a set up [by Mbeki]”. He said that: “During the beginning phases of the arms deal, I had some interviews with Mbeki. I had information he didn’t like and that was just the final straw”.

He claimed many in the ruling party – including national executive members – were “supportive” of his arms deal investigation before it was thwarted by Mbeki as it was his “line”. The former judge further claimed Tony Yengeni and Schabir Shaik were “sacrificed” in that investigation because it was “easy to sacrifice them”. “That was Mbeki’s brainchild – to stop our involvement”, Heath told City Press on 4 December 2011.

The Times newspaper reported on Thursday that Zuma had told an SABC radio station, Ukhozi FM, on Wednesday that he would study Heath’s comments and seek legal advice from Justice Minister, Jeff Radebe.

The report said the president would also look into whether Heath held “any grudges” against anyone before taking any action. The newspaper quoted anonymous party members saying such comments had caused damage, and that their timing was worrying. This as the party prepares for its centenary celebrations next year, and that Zuma would have to explain himself not only inside the party but outside too.

In an interview Heath claimed that the former president had “dictated to the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] what decisions they had to take”. Asked whether he had proof, he said he would not disclose the information to City Press, except that “generally there was no doubt he [Mbeki] had a strong say in those decisions (taken by the NPA), yet the NPA was supposed to be completely independent”.

But Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga “categorically” rejected the accusations, saying they were “devoid of all truth”. Ratshitanga was quoted on media reports – by News24.com, Times Live and Mail & Guardian Online, among others – saying a letter had been sent to the presidency seeking evidence of allegations Heath had levelled against the former president.

He said, however, that “no consideration of legal action [had been considered yet] at this stage”, adding that all the former president was “seeking is just clarity”.

Ratshitanga said the allegations that the former president had abused his position to compromise the criminal justice system by blocking some investigations into corrupt practices, and initiating corruption and rape charges against Zuma by the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPPA) were defamatory (my emphasis).

Allegations against Mbeki are “very grave, more so because they are made by the head of a critical organ of our criminal justice system and suggest illegal conduct on the part of a former head of state and government”, said Ratshitanga. He said the Supreme Court of Appeal had made it clear that the “allegations (of political interference by Mbeki) were irrelevant, gratuitous and based on suspicion and not on fact”.

M&G Online on Thursday afternoon quoted Zuma’s controversial spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, saying the presidency had not received Mbeki’s letter seeking clarity on Heath’s comments but said the president would take note of the letter, adding that “this is not a matter we would consider replying to in the public space but anything said by the former president will be taken into account as the president looks into it”.

Given the position recently appoint to – whether he would be investigating some dead-serious corruption cases against many high profile figures in and outside government, many of whom are seen as close to both Zuma and Mbeki and of course given the remarks made in a City Press interview which has already given and confirmed his somewhat hatred for and grudges against Mbeki and all those who are allegedly close to him and at the same time adoring those allegedly close to his new boss [Zuma] – Heath should have know better.

And considering his appointment by former president Nelson Mandela to establish the SIU in 1996, and later resign after the Constitutional Court in 2001 found that as a sitting judge at the time he could not head a long-term investigating unite and also after Mbeki was accused of failing to release him off his judge position – it is no wonder many are suspicious of Zuma’s reasons for appointing Heath as head of SIU in the first place.

But of course many of us will continue to ask whether Heath’s investigations – whether warranted, valid or not – would be motivated by hatred, grudges or his seemingly closeness and cozy relationship to Zuma especially for those seen as the latter’s critics and opponents.

Heath is trending on very dangerous grounds, I tell you.

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