Willem Heath took only seven days to prove himself unfit to head the Special Investigating Unit, and another seven days to be forced out of the office for which he was unfit. This is something of a record, of which someone, somewhere, can be proud. But who, and why?
Let’s roll back the tape. Heath was originally a judge — not a conspicuously brilliant one, and of course any judge appointed under the apartheid era should be viewed with suspicion. But in the early post-apartheid era, there wasn’t a lot of choice. If you wanted someone to clean your political laundry, you were almost certainly going to find yourself someone who had been working for the apartheid system. Also, it was a fetish of the Mandela presidency that white people were automatically more acceptable to the public-that-mattered than black people (except in elected office, where you had to put black people forward because black people were doing the voting). So Heath was appointed to head a new structure, a Special Investigative Unit, to investigate corruption in the new structure of the Eastern Cape.
At first, he seemed to be doing a good job — at least, he appeared to be exposing and punishing vast amounts of corruption. Gradually, however, the job he was doing began to appear a little too good to be true. The amounts of corruption were too large for the relatively minor functionaries whom Heath was investigating, and the publicity which Heath was receiving for investigating was out of proportion to his accomplishments. Gradually it became apparent that Heath was systematically exaggerating the sums involved and was working closely with the newspapers to improve his profile as a corruption-buster at a time when the right-wing white opposition desperately wanted to discredit the new government and found Heath’s publicity extraordinarily convenient.
This didn’t mean that Heath was a crook (though obviously he might have been used by the really big fish to hide their immense malfeasances behind Heath’s more trivial investigations), or even politically suspect (though right-wing politicians and journalists were suspiciously fond of him, this in itself doesn’t prove that he was in their pay or under their control). However, when the ruling class put Heath’s name forward as the ideal man to investigate the arms deal, it was obviously a very dodgy idea. While Mandela, as usual, wanted to do what the ruling class told him to do, Mbeki objected that giving such power to a publicity junkie with strong right-wing connections, especially a publicity junkie who saw headlines as more important than telling the truth, was simply asking for trouble. Mbeki’s position was so obviously more sensible than Mandela’s that the ANC backed him and he had no trouble preventing Heath’s appointment — which was one reason why the ruling class turned so strongly against Mbeki, and which was also why Heath, who had been preening and grooming himself for lucrative and endlessly headlong-earning position which would amount to a kind of Andrew Feinstein with power, turned against Mbeki.
Where did the great corruption-buster go after he had failed to garner a plum political propaganda job? Back to serving the people groaning under the corrupt rule of Bhisho and Mthatha? Not at all. Heath ran off to work as a senior legal adviser for Brett Kebble’s group of companies. Kebble’s companies were essentially bankrupt at the time, being kept afloat by Kebble and his clique recycling cash out of the pension funds and shifting stock around in order to pretend that they held more of it than they really did — essentially the same thing that Robert Maxwell was doing before that fat ersatz champagne socialist crook fell or was pushed overboard, and as with Maxwell, Kebble either had himself killed or, more probably, was knocked off by one of the mining magnates who had benefited from Kebble’s dirty deals and wanted to hang on to the cash or ensure that Kebble never revealed how the money had been used.
Obviously an organised criminal needed lots of legal protection to hang on to his undeserved money, but it was immediately obvious that Heath’s pretense to being a man of integrity had flowed away like a river into the Namib Desert. After what few brains Kebble had were blown out by his own gunmen, Heath was in need of a new job to serve as a purification ritual. No wonder, then, that he soon joined the team of sleazy lawyers around Zuma engaged in defeating the ends of justice.
Heath is often described as the brains behind Zuma’s legal strategy. This is the media flattering itself for its unfounded admiration of Heath; the brains behind Zuma’s legal strategy, insofar as there was one, were contained in the skull of former white supremacist MP and reactionary lawyer Kemp J Kemp. Unlike Heath, Kemp was a serious lawyer, and he knew very well what had to be done; delay, obfuscate and avoid decisions until after Polokwane, and preferably after the 2009 elections when all bets would be off. Kemp was good at the job of evading justice, but of course he had a lot of help — virtually every judge who presided over any of the cases involving Zuma, from Van Der Merwe who covered up for the rape charge through Ngcobo and Nicholson who helped avoid the corruption charges, worked hard to protect Zuma from the consequences of his crimes.
The most valuable function which Heath could fulfil was as a Rolodex. He had worked with most of the corporate propagandists in South African journalism, either in an attempt to promote his own career or to cover for Kebble. As such, he had access to some of the biggest liars in the lying business, and could thus provide propaganda behind which the defeat of the ends of justice could be made possible. This bore particular fruit in early 2009, when the media began spinning the yarn that the Mbeki government had somehow manipulated the Directorate of Public Prosecutions into charging Zuma despite the lack of evidence against him.
Actually, the Mbeki government had first sacked the Director of Public Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, for trying to protect Zuma by bringing charges against the Commissioner of Police and using this to intimidate the government into silence — “Lay off Zuma or Selebi gets it!”. Then it had stalled the charging of Zuma until after Polokwane because they still hoped that Zuma could be prevented from gaining the Presidency for which he was so unfit. In the first case they were utterly in the right, and in the second case, it was obvious that charging Zuma during Polokwane would make it almost impossible to win the case, so gigantic the firestorm would have been, so they were sensible even if technically wrong. But none of this was covered in the media, which was running after the fabrications constructed by the ruling class and partly broadcast by Heath.
That was Heath’s finest hour — to make it possible to intimidate the national prosecuting office into abandoning the open-and-shut corruption case against Zuma, and thus, in turn, get the crook who was behind most of the scams which Heath was covering up, Schabir Shaik, out of jail. By doing this, Heath served the ruling class as he had always dreamed of doing, by getting an incompetent and conspicuously odious crook who was a puppet of white big business into the supreme national office. It is an accomplishment for which Heath deserves to be acknowledged, and also deserves to be sent to prison for twenty years or so.
After that, Heath was at a loose end. He set up a consultancy to serve the ruling class with his admirable experience in protecting criminals from the consequences of their crimes. This doesn’t seem to have been very lucrative, possibly because the ruling class had Zuma already. So, it seems, he nagged at Zuma and his allies; “Gissajob!”. Preferably a sinecure.
There was a man named Hofmeyr, who had been running the Assets Forfeiture Unit (the organisation tasked with helping the state rob people whom it didn’t like) and had subsequently been put in charge of the Special Investigations Unit at national level. He had done this job under Mbeki, so it was easy for Heath to slander him, although it was more difficult to find any actual evidence that Hofmeyr was doing a bad job. On the other hand, this was a bit of a problem; if Hofmeyr was actually working well as a corruption-buster, then it was an inconvenience to the ruling class to have to constantly keep preventing him from busting them. If Heath replaced Hofmeyr, they knew that Heath was a much more reliable douchebag. So Heath got Zuma to fire Hofmeyr and put him in Hofmeyr’s place. Sleazeball appointed by sleazeball. Under the Zuma administration, that’s a dog bites man story. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer can be summed up in a single word: turf.
The South African ruling class views the judiciary as their own private preserve. Zuma, it will be recalled, had attempted to reappoint his crony Ngcobo as boss of the Constitutional Court. The ruling class decided to smack Zuma down, because they wanted a more conspicuous tool of their own bidding to hold that job. Therefore they got a ruling-class flunkey named Richard Calland to take Zuma to court and prevent Ngcobo’s term of office from being extended. Having made it clear that the ruling class didn’t want Ngcobo, of course the ruling class judiciary backed Calland and Ngcobo was duly hounded out. No bad thing — but then instead of appointing the man the ruling class wanted, Zuma went and appointed an apartheid-era deadbeat named Mogoeng instead. Of course it would come to the same thing in the end, because Mogoeng was reactionary and would do as he was told — but the ruling class doesn’t take challenges lightly. Obviously, they decided to bide their time and then give Zuma a lesson in who was really running South Africa.
Heath, being an idiot, walked into it with eyes wide shut. He was given a glowing opportunity for an interview by City Press, the propaganda sheet for blacks run by the apartheid-era media conglomerate Media24, and edited by the ruling-class flunkey (and ex-editor of the Mail and Guardian) Ferriel Haffajee. In this interview, he decided to float the propaganda line that he was going to investigate Mbeki for framing Zuma for rape and corruption in order to cover up Mbeki’s own crimes. Basically, the same propaganda line that he had been running during Zuma’s trial. The same line had been spouted incessantly by Zuma propagandists — not least Zwelenzima Vavi of COSATU — for years and had been peddled ad nauseam in the media. There was nothing odd about it except that it was a crock of shit from start to finish.
But Heath didn’t realise that the ruling-class was looking to smack Zuma down and would use him to do it. Suddenly, various media outlets (interestingly, not the Mail and Guardian, where support for Heath ran high as soon as this happened after being lukewarm when he was appointed) proclaimed that Heath’s utterances made him so obviously a political stooge that he couldn’t possibly hold the office. This was, of course, true, but it was also true of virtually everybody else in Zuma’s administration. However, it was a bit embarrassing that the boss corruption-buster was shown to be a sleazeball.
We don’t know why, but Zuma seems to have panicked. Probably Heath, being a white guy, was in a weaker position than he realised. Almost certainly, Zuma realised that Heath’s utterances were a free gift to anyone who wanted to criticise Zuma in the run-up to Mangaung, and that if Mbeki wanted to make an issue of it, he could take Heath to the cleaners by simply suing him for defamation and demanding that the case be heard pronto because it was a matter of national security; Heath would inevitably be exposed as a lying blowhard. It is possible that the “arms deal investigation” currently purportedly under weigh will be used to smear Mbeki and thus opponents of Zuma in the run-up to Mangaung, and Heath’s outburst could have served to discredit that project by showing what scumbags the holders of those fake opinions are. So Heath had to go. Anyway, it was obvious that important factions in the ruling class — all those who were either not particularly white-supremacist or not still obsessed with Mbeki — were happy to use Heath as a stick to beat Zuma with. By-bye, Willem, try not to let the doorhandle get up your gat.
And that’s what it’s all about, and why it becomes so obvious that no matter how hard Zuma is backed by the ruling class in the year before Mangaung’s National Conference, Zuma is going to have a difficult time getting there. It couldn’t happen to a nastier guy.