The dictatorship of the chattering classes

2011-12-03 11:31

There are names like Mandla Zwane, Thabo Molefe, Koos van der Merwe or Tom Jones that are so common that it is easy to confuse one of such name to their namesake elsewhere.

I wondered if there were many Willem Heaths around because I was not sure if I was reading about the same man, who was once praised by the media and the political opposition as the best thing to have happened in the fight against graft.

Thanks to search engines like Google, I found that it is indeed the same once-vaunted Judge Willem Heath, whose many latter-day detractors were once his greatest fans.

At the height of his hero status, one newspaper even reported that former president Thabo Mbeki’s decision to let him go, after the Constitutional Court ruled that a judge could not also head the Special Investigating Unit, was based on Heath’s “political insolence” and the possibility that he would not toe the executive line when investigating the arms deal.

Many of those who are today professing shock and claiming all sorts of political conspiracies, hammered the Mbeki regime for firing “a good man”.

Newspaper columns were written about how Mbeki and his administration must have regretted appointing Heath and how they had latched on to the chance presented by the Constitutional Court to rid themselves of a pestilence.

We were told that the ANC and government were so happy to get rid of this troublesome man that they ignored the court’s 12-month grace period for an orderly transfer of power and fired him immediately.

Mbeki firing Heath and President Jacob Zuma hiring him cannot both be acts of abuse of power. Either Mbeki was right to fire such an unprincipled man or Zuma has misdirected himself.

The detractors must decide whether they were wrong then or are wrong now. They must decide whether they honestly believed that Heath was a man committed to clean governance then, or whether they simply sided with him because he spoke to the great desire for an anti-establishment hero.

It may very well be that Heath changed for the worse along the way, but the onus is on those who say so to point out where and when his Damascus moment happened.

It is not enough to assume the man’s incompetence or lack of principle because he was once part of a team that worked towards getting Zuma off corruption charges.

Nobody of any credibility would, for example, allege that Kemp J Kemp is a shady character because he led the legal strategy against the same charges.

The inconsistency does not end there.

Not only was I baffled by the DA accepting the ridiculous claim that Willie Hofmeyr had been fired – he still heads the Asset Forfeiture Unit – but nearly fell off my chair to hear that it lamented the departure.

As an ANC activist who was detained many times in the 1980s, Hofmeyr is a deployed cadre.

If the DA was consistent about its views on cadre deployment, then it would have celebrated Hofmeyr’s departure, especially when he is replaced by a man with no known party allegiance.

We can only speculate about the real reasons for it but it is strange to see the DA show such affection and faith in this one particular deployed cadre. It would be useful if the DA were to say what it is about his departure they mourn.

I do not to know enough about Heath or Hofmeyr’s competencies and abilities to grieve or celebrate their respective fates. I know, though, that the dictatorship of the chattering classes is at full steam. That is why this class again thinks it can get away with proclaiming one a knight in a shining armour today and a charlatan the next day, without the need to say where and when he supposedly lost his glimmer.

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