Simelane is just the man as judicial janitor

2009-12-05 00:00

IT is an immutable law of politics. Leaders surround themselves with sycophants as instinctively as a queen bee wallows among drones.

In the latest loyalist appointment to a supposedly independent post, President Jacob Zuma has named Menzi Simelane, his new personal puppet, as national director of Public Prosecutions.

This is an African National Congress tradition: largesse in exchange for loyalty. Leaders come into power vowing to keep in touch with the common herd and to listen to dissenting voices in pursuit of statesmanship, but the unguent of flattery is irresistible.

Nor has the Democratic Alliance’s usually level-headed leader Helen Zille proved immune to the siren song of courtiers who accord her a saintliness to rival Mother Theresa. A Mother Theresa on steroids.

Such Vaseline-tongued flatterers eager to advance their own careers soon cause the abandonment of good intentions. In the cut-throat world of politics, an inner ring of unflinching loyalists seems a logical survival mechanism.

But it brings one to another immutable law of politics. Sycophants trim their sails to prevailing winds; they have the innate loyalty of sewer rats.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was notorious for the coterie of bootlickers he surrounded himself with. Their ready acquiescence with his bizarre theories on HIV/Aids led to the deaths of many people, while their pandering to his political insecurity eventually undermined the Constitution.

Much good it did him in the long run. When his ship started listing, the rats migrated to the Zuma vessel, telling tales about their former master in order to ingratiate themselves with the new one.

A sad example of this is Simelane’s snivelling explanation of why he was such a useless director-general of Justice during the Mbeki era. Simelane had been lambasted by the Ginwala Inquiry into the axing of prosecutions head Vusi Pikoli. Ginwala found that Simelane’s evidence to the inquiry “left much to be desired … that his testimony was contradictory and without basis in fact and law”.

Simelane’s conduct during the inquiry was such that the Public Service Commission recommended a disciplinary inquiry – which was quashed – against Simelane.

Former Speaker and lifelong ANC stalwart Frene Ginwala’s terse comment on his recent appointment is that her opinion of Simelane remains unchanged.

Simelane appears to be too dim to realise that he does himself no favours with his own explanation as to why he behaved as he did. Cravenly eager to ingratiate himself with Zuma, Simelane’s excuse is that he had only done what Mbeki’s office asked him to do.

According to the Sunday Independent, Simelane even went so far as to produce for Zuma correspondence between him and Mbeki’s legal adviser to prove that he was “just a pawn” and that Ginwala’s criticisms had been based on submissions “imposed on him” by Mbeki’s office.

So, to the already obvious flaws of intellectual ineptness and lack of legal nous, one can now add a lack of integrity and backbone. Oh, and almost universal condemnation from the legal community of his appointment. This hardly adds up to the attributes one would hope for from a new national head of Public Prosecutions.

But such a conclusion is to ignore what Zuma wants from this deployment. He wants a biddable man or woman. He wants a person who has proved his or her credentials for a crucial national office by a willingness to debase that office to serve a presidential agenda.

Simelane is an outstanding candidate for being a Zuma lackey. The president’s only concern should be that of Simelane jumping ship the moment the wheel of political fortune starts turning again, as it inevitably will one day.

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