Presidency distances itself from Heath

2011-12-10 14:40
Johannesburg - The presidency on Saturday distanced itself from comments made by newly appointed Special Investigating Unit (SIU) head Willem Heath against former President Thabo Mbeki, saying they were made in his personal capacity.

"The presidency and government in general have nothing whatsoever to do with the comments made by Mr Heath," said spokesperson Mac Maharaj in a statement.

"None of the allegations made by Mr Heath have been attributed to any duty or function which he exercises as the head of the SIU."

Heath told the City Press that Thabo Mbeki, former president and political rival to Jacob Zuma, allegedly initiated rape and corruption charges against Zuma.

Abused his position

He also told the Sunday newspaper that Mbeki also allegedly abused his position to compromise the criminal justice system by blocking some investigations into corrupt practices.

The corruption charges against Zuma and arms company Thint were dropped, and Zuma was acquitted on the rape charge.

On Thursday, Mbeki's office rejected the claims as defamatory and malicious.

A lawyer for Mbeki's foundation has asked the presidency for evidence of allegations that Heath reportedly levelled against him.

Maharaj acknowledged receipt of a letter in this regard, but said a perusal of the newspaper report makes it abundantly clear that it was conducted by Heath - who resigned as SIU head when Mbeki was president - in his personal capacity.

Serious nature of allegations

Given the serious nature of the allegations, Zuma had instructed his office to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the Heath interview, he said.

Maharaj said Zuma made the announcement during a radio interview on Wednesday, soon after he became aware of the City Press newspaper article.

"We wish to emphasise therefore, that President Zuma acted on the matter before any complaint from any quarter, because he was concerned about the contents of the interview," he said.

"The president has requested the minister of justice and constitutional development [Jeff Radebe] to assist his office and prioritise the matter so that it can be brought to conclusion without delay."

Radebe indicated in a statement on Saturday afternoon, that he hopes to conclude consultation and report back to Zuma next week.

Implications

He would look into the validity of the media reports and the possible implications thereof.

"It is important that we attend to the allegations, whether factual or not, in order to ascertain the impact such comments could have on the government if found to be true," he said.

Radebe, together with the director general in his department, Nonkululeko Sindane, had met with Heath on Tuesday to understand the context of the interview with the City Press.

In the same meeting, Heath strongly indicated that the comments were not made in his professional capacity as the head of the SIU.

Freedom of expression

Radebe said the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression for everyone.

In exercising this right, there was always a potential for consequences to follow, he said.

"It however remains an imperative of our government and all its officials to ensure at all times that we must not contravene any law or violate the rights of others, while carrying out our duties. And this is one of the reasons why we cannot leave these allegations unattended."

Since his appointment, the Congress of the People called Heath "too risky" and the Democratic Alliance said he was "too partisan".

The Inkatha Freedom Party, African Christian Democratic Party, and the African National Congress were happy that he was back.
- SAPA
Read more on:    siu  |  thabo mbeki  |  willem heath
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