IN FOCUS: Glynnis Breytenbach - 'I’ve always detested bullies'

2017-09-11 13:47
Glynnis Breytenbach (Netwerk24)

Glynnis Breytenbach (Netwerk24)

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2017-07-11 15:03

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The opening line of Advocate Glynnis Breytenbach’s new memoir reads: "I wouldn’t read my own memoir."

It’s probably not the best way to sell your book, but it perfectly sums up the former prosecutor and DA Member of Parliament: to the point, slightly self-deprecating, and with a brutally honest wit.

The cover of the book, aptly titled Rule of Law and co-written by journalist Nechama Brodie, displays a picture of Breytenbach giving an unidentified person a stare that, in her own words, says, "fuck you a thousand times".

That unidentified person is, of course, the Director of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Shaun "the Sheep" Abrahams. The photo was taken during a justice portfolio committee meeting in Parliament.

"I think Shaun Abrahams sold his soul," Breytenbach says during an interview in her office in Marks Building at Parliament, where the DA’s offices are located.

"He was a nobody. He was a senior state advocate. It’s like taking someone from Grade 6 and giving them a Master’s degree in Astrophysics. He doesn’t have the basic tools. He’s never been a manager and now he’s managing an organisation the size of the NPA. But, of course, he must’ve known that before he took the job.

"He would never have been appointed if he didn’t agree upfront to be less independent than what is required by law."

'I was born to be a prosecutor'

Breytenbach worked for the NPA for 26 years and knows the organisation inside out. She has been lauded by former colleagues as a fierce, loyal prosecutor, with integrity that is beyond reproach.

She waves off the compliments.

"I was born to be a prosecutor. It’s the best job in the world. I’ve always detested bullies and the law gives you a good opportunity to take on bullies. It’s hard work, intellectually challenging; you need to be able to think quickly and it requires a quick wit. You get to be sarcastic 24-hours of the day. What’s not to like?"

In April 2012, circumstances however forced her out of 'the best job in the world' when she was suspended as senior prosecutor after threatening to go to court to challenge her superiors’ decision to withdraw fraud and corruption charges against controversial crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.

She faced a brutal disciplinary hearing, but recalls with wit how, every day, she would park in the staff parking at the office, sign in as Catherine Zeta-Jones and proceed to watch golf and play chess on her laptop while the hearing would take place.

As senior prosecutor, she knew better than to get involved in her own defence, and she let her lawyers handle what they still regard as trumped up charges against her.

'We’re going to turn this country around'

She was eventually cleared of all charges, but the NPA took the decision on review and that court case is still ongoing. She was allowed to return to work, but was given no assignments for an entire year. And so, when Helen Zille phoned in late 2013 to ask her to join the DA, the decision was easy. She quit her job of nearly three decades and became the DA’s justice spokesperson and opposition MP.

"It can be hideously frustrating working in Parliament, but I work with great people. I think we’re doing great things and making a real difference. We’re going to turn this country around."

Despite being in the frontlines of the fight against state capture, and being threatened and shot at in the line of duty, Breytenbach doesn’t think anything of it. She doesn’t like unnecessary praise, and believes if everybody just does their jobs, South Africa could be back on track in no time.

At 56 she is crazy about life in Cape Town. She plays golf, goes to the gym and spends time with her three dogs, Keika, Frisco and Rafi, the latter named after Rafael Nadal.

"I used to be a Federer fan. He’s a nice boy and an absolute gentleman. But he lost my support when he lost to Nadal in the second Wimbledon final they played each other."

The previous year Nadal had lost to Roger Federer in the final, and afterwards he congratulated him and later said he went to cry in the shower. The next year, they met again in the final. Nadal won and Federer sat next to the court, crying.

"I was finished with him. You must win graciously, and you must lose even more graciously. And if you want to cry, do it in the bathroom where no one can see you."

It’s a life motto worthy of Glynnis Breytenbach.

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