Heath resignation met with mixed reaction

2011-12-16 07:25

There was mixed reaction from political parties over the resignation of newly appointed Special Investigating Unit (SIU) head Willem Heath.

The ANC said it was “regrettable” that Heath had to resign shortly after his appointment.

“In terms of his experience, he would have served South Africa better,” said ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza.

“We (the ANC), however, accept the resignation because of the unfortunate statement he made (regarding former president Thabo Mbeki), which raised many issues and was taking focus away from the work he was supposed to do.”

The DA said Heath proved he was “politically tainted” and a supporter of President Jacob Zuma.

“This is unacceptable for someone in that position, as it is vital that in often-sensitive investigations, people must be treated equally and impartially,” said DA MP Debbie Schafer.

“There would have been no public confidence if Heath was using his position to promote the interests of an ANC faction.”

Heath had compromised the integrity of the SIU and resigning was the right thing to do, said Schafer.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said Heath handed in his written resignation on Wednesday and Zuma accepted it.

The Inkatha Freedom Party said although it welcomed Heath’s appointment last month, it was “mindful” of the “substantial political baggage” he brought with him because of his relationship with Zuma.

“Unfortunately, the storm that erupted following Advocate Heath’s attack on former president Thabo Mbeki made him no longer suitable to lead the SIU – a position that requires complete impartiality,” said IFP MP Velaphi Ndlovu.

“We were disappointed to see that when he assumed the role, he immediately started acting like a politician instead of an independent crime-fighting boss.”

Former National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka commended Heath, saying the move was in the best interests of the country and the SIU.

“It was the right thing to do for the president (Zuma) and the Minister of Justice (Jeff Radebe) to prevail on the matter, as it would have been indeed untenable for Advocate Heath to continue as the head of the SIU,” he said.

By yesterday evening, Heath himself could not be reached for comment.

Last week, Zuma asked Radebe to help his office probe Heath’s accusations against Mbeki. Heath told the City Press newspaper earlier this month that Mbeki had allegedly initiated rape and corruption charges against Zuma.

He claimed Mbeki abused his position by blocking some investigations into corrupt practices.

Heath, whose appointment as SIU head was announced on November 29, expressed gratitude to Zuma and Radebe for showing confidence in him by giving him the job.

Zuma was taking steps to fill the vacancy. In the interim he appointed advocate Nomgcobo Jiba as acting SIU head.

Heath replaced Willie Hofmeyr as SIU head. He was first appointed by former president Nelson Mandela in 1996 to establish the SIU.

Heath, however, resigned in 2001 after the Constitutional Court found a sitting judge could not head a long-term investigating unit.

The City Press reported that Mbeki, who was president at the time, refused to grant Heath an early retirement.

As a result he had to resign, a decision which, according to Heath, left him a “pauper”.

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