Meet Bob Glenister

2008-08-08 00:00

Cape Town — You’d expect Hugh “Bob” Glenister — the man trying to stop the government from disbanding the Scorpions — to be seriously p...d off.

Here he is, a busy man, lining up at Parliament, to have his say in so-called “public hearings”, when, let’s face it, the unit is, to all intents and purposes, kaput.

When we meet, Parliament’s historical Old Assembly Chamber — where Hendrik Verwoerd saw his demise and where SA’s Constitution was hammered out — is packed as the justice and safety and security committees hear submissions on the legislation dealing with the dissolution of the Scorpions.

Some of the presenters — Glenister included — have been vehemently opposed to the unit’s demise and sceptical that their inputs will be considered in the “farcical” hearings. Others, including Cosatu and the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union believe the unit, with its penchant for selective “Hollywood-style arrests” should go.

Last week, even before the public hearings began, the committe chairs said the Scorpions will be disbanded regardless.

But, Glenister, who smokes a lot and has a laugh that echoes loudly through the corridors of power, is curiously upbeat.

“It’s exciting to see what’s going on inside there. It’s dialogue and people are learning from each other. When I hear dialogue like that, I feel as if I have succeeded already,” he says.

“People are talking to each other in there. Africa is all about dialogue, but South Africa lost it for a while. Arrogance crept back into the system, but the dialogue is coming back now. This is what I wanted all along.”

The wealthy Jo’burg-based businessman has made headlines in recent months for his fight to save the efficient crime-fighting unit. In a brave and persistent act of civil activism, he has sought an urgent High Court interdict against the government’s plan to disband the unit. When the Pretoria High Court ruled, in May, that it does not have the jurisdiction to decide on the application, he filed papers in the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court will hear his applicaton on August 20.

Glenister believes that the Scorpions have been highly effective in fighting serious crime and that the decision to disband the unit was taken to protect certain members of the ANC from investigaton and prosecution by the unit.

His high-powered legal team and publicity campaign have cost more than R600 000 and he has set aside R1,5 million for his mission, which, by all accounts, will not be enough.

The divorced father of five describes himself as a “seeker of knowledge” and a “principled man” who loves people, but hates bullies.

On the Scorpions decision, he says: “You can’t just decree something. You have to involve the people. Convince them. Buy them in, because you represent them.”

He describes himself as a “court jester”.

“I try to act as a mirror, to help people understand how they look to us. I try to ask them this: do you want to look like this?”

His euphoria at the process, he reminds me, must be counter-balanced by a healthy scepticism that the leopard does not change its spots. “We must live in hope, but we must not lower our guard,” he says.

As a younger man, Glenister walked out of management school because he didn’t believe half of what they taught him and “they didn’t teach humanity”.

“I made money because I love doing what I do. I am not a person who tries to control my life. As I am on my journey, things happen. In the Chinese calendar, I am a dog. People tell me that suits me as I am always digging.”

He’s in a position to take on the bullies because he made far more money than he ever anticipated, mainly through his companies, Roland, X Film and Digital Production Solutions, which provide machines, material and technology to creative industries.

“My campaign is an investment in the future of my country. I am not leaving in a hurry and I don’t want other people to leave. When they leave they take skills and job capacity. We are exporting beautiful people and then we have to buy back the technology. I am saddened by every South African who leaves.”

Despite his ongoing battle, Glenister is encouraged by the parliamentary process he has witnessed in the hearings.

“Yunus Carrim (Justice committee chairman) has shown a side I would like to see in every politician and that is the ability to converse and listen to divergent opinions. I love the way (IFP Member of Parliament) Koos Van der Merwe stirs the pot. Hopefully in the middle we will find some solution. That’s what I have been talking about since January.”

This is not the first time he has fought for a civil cause.

“I always stand on the outside. As a kid I was always the loner who would look after the little guy against the big guy. But I never hit anyone. I taught the guys who were picked on to use their mouths.”

One thing he’s learnt on this journey is that South Africans, “at every level”, have a deep-seated love for each other and for their country.

“I have never met a South African who doesn’t inspire me. Most people just want things to work.”

People regularly contact him to encourage him. “Most of them just say thanks,” he says.

He drives his children mad because he has no security at his home in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.

“I have no electric fence, no alarms, no private security company. It goes against my belief system. I do get scared sometimes, but I refuse to let fear subdue me or push me down.

“My kids say I am crazy. Especially when I sleep in the garden. They say to me, somebody is going to slag (slaughter) you. But I love sleeping under the stars and waking up with dew on my face. That’s what South Africa should be about. Instead of living in cages, we should be able to freely appreciate the beauty around us.”

Has he enjoyed his fight so far?

“No, I haven’t enjoyed the ride. There are times when I want to give up. Seeing the process at Parliament made me feel satisfied that we have achieved something — some negotiation and communication about the issue.

“I just hope that this dialogue leads to us building an institution that is better than what we have. I still say that, if the Scorpions disband, it will be a travesty. If we lose the unit and do not come out with something better, then we are on the slippery road.”

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