Newsmaker 2011: How to lose a job in 17 days

2011-12-23 12:44

Seventeen days. That’s how long advocate Willem Heath lasted as newly appointed head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

In a controversial move, President Jacob Zuma appointed Heath, who started the SIU in 1996, in place of Willie Hofmeyr at the end of November.

It was speculated that Hofmeyr, who was instrumental in the dropping of corruption charges against Zuma, had fallen out of favour with the president over his perceived closeness to Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale.

Two days after his appointment, Heath granted City Press an interview, during which he made dramatic claims against former president Thabo Mbeki and former prosecutions boss Bulelani Ngcuka.

Mbeki, he said, initiated rape and corruption charges against Zuma, assisted by Ngcuka.

Heath also argued that three courts were wrong in convicting Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, of corruption and revealed that he made secret payments on behalf of slain mining boss Brett Kebble.

Mbeki and his supporters hit back. The former president’s lawyer wrote to Zuma, asking for proof of Heath’s “defamatory” claims.

Ngcuka also penned a scathing open letter to Heath, accusing him of believing that the SIU job was his “God-given right to hold”.

Ngcuka said Heath should stop “sulking” and lay criminal charges against Mbeki and himself if he had any proof.

Heath’s statements hugely embarrassed the Zuma administration, which saw it as confirmation he was a “maverick” that couldn’t be trusted.

After swift intervention by Zuma and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, the 66-year-old Heath resigned because it was “untenable” for him to stay on.

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