Mixed reaction over Heath appointment

2011-11-30 07:09

There was mixed reaction yesterday over President Jacob Zuma’s replacement of Willie Hofmeyr with Willem Heath as head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

The DA said it was “shocked” that Hofmeyr had been replaced.

“Of great concern is the lack of reasons given for this decision,” DA MP Debbie Schafer said in a statement.

“Given Hofmeyr’s obviously excellent work in combating corruption in both government and elsewhere, there can be no justification for this decision.”

Schafer said speculation that Hofmeyr’s assistance in the Public Protector’s investigation involving Cabinet ministers and National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele hit too close to home for the ANC, could not be avoided.

Zuma announced Heath’s appointment earlier yesterday.

He said it would ease the pressure on Hofmeyr, the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions, who had headed the SIU in conjunction with his role as head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU).

Heath was appointed with immediate effect.

The ANC welcomed Heath’s appointment.

“We believe with the appointment of (former) judge Willem Heath and through his impeccable experience, the SIU will rise to the challenge of intolerance against crime and corruption,” ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

The Council for Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac) said it was concerned at Hofmeyr’s removal as SIU head.

“Under the leadership of Hofmeyr the SIU, despite its limited mandate, became one of the key structures in the fight against corruption,” Casac said in a statement.

It had noted that Zuma had a close relationship with Heath, who acted as an adviser to him when he was being investigated by the Scorpions.

“Whilst as head of the SIU he will only investigate matters that are referred to him by the president, his independent judgment will be compromised,” said Casac.

It said the appointment was a set-back in the quest for a robust, fearless criminal justice sector.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents about 70% of SIU employees, also welcomed the announcement.

“Mr Hofmeyr’s failure to transform the agency and his indecisiveness in resolving worker issues had left our members disillusioned and feeling under siege,” Nehawu said in a statement.

“Willem Heath has a lot of work ahead of him, but we want to assure him that he can count on the support and co-operation of our union, as long as worker issues are resolved and transformation is given a priority.”

In September, Nehawu called on Zuma to remove Hofmeyr has the head of the SIU.

The IFP also welcomed the decision.

“The IFP believes that Heath is the right man for the job,” IFP police spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu said in a statement.

“The success of the Heath Commission confirmed Heath’s credentials as a man with invaluable leadership skills and expertise,” he said.

“His appointment will most certainly go a long way in bolstering South Africa’s fight against rampant crime and corruption.”

Ndlovu said outgoing SIU head Willie Hofmeyr has been an exemplary crime fighter and leader in his role as the head of the SIU and of the AFU.

However, being responsible for both of these demanding units was not sustainable in the long term.

Heath headed the SIU, when he was a judge in the Eastern Cape High Court.

He resigned as a judge in 2001 as a result of a Constitutional Court ruling which found that the appointment of a judge as head of the SIU was unconstitutional.

Heath currently serves as an adviser to Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe and is the CEO of Heath Forensic Investigations.

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