Adriaan Basson

Gerrie Nel is making the mistake of his life

2017-01-31 12:07
Gerrie Nel (Picture: Beeld)

Gerrie Nel (Picture: Beeld)

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Advocate Gerrie Nel, bulldog prosecutor extraordinaire, should not be joining AfriForum.

Nel is above AfriForum. Nel belongs to all South Africans who saw him put Oscar Pistorius and Jackie Selebi in jail.

No wonder social media has exploded with anger, outrage and sadness after the news broke that Nel would be joining a racially divisive lobby group.

READ updates from Nel's media briefing on Tuesday afternoon here

While we should be discussing the implosion of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) under Advocate Shaun Abrahams, we are discussing AfriForum. And that is just wrong.

Save SA's Lawson Naidoo tweeted: "He runs the risk of destroying his legacy of a proud career in public service." I agree.

I cannot imagine the unbearable circumstances Nel must have been working under at the NPA to have considered making such a dramatic jump.

Let's be clear: I am not saying Nel should not have resigned. It is the right of every civil servant to pursue private interests and dreams when they feel they can no longer do this as part of the state.

Many former civil servants become successful advocates, entrepreneurs and CEOs. Think of Maria Ramos, Dali Mpofu, Andile Ngcaba, Bulelani Ngcuka, George Fivaz and Mo Shaik. It is Nel's fullest right to exit the NPA after reaching a certain level of "gatvolness".

It is unsurprising that Nel felt he could not see out his last five years as prosecutor. The NPA has been in turmoil for years. The organisation is one of the biggest casualties of the Jacob Zuma era.

When he couldn't save her husband from going to prison, suspended deputy NPA head Nomgcobo Jiba declared war on Nel. It is known that she and her allies tried to make life hell for him.

He was constantly under some kind of fake investigation and has never been charged successfully.

During all of this, Nel kept on doing what he was born to do: putting bad guys in prison. His cross-examination of Pistorius and tenacity to seek justice for Reeva Steenkamp made him a hero for millions of South Africans, black and white.

Although Nel has always been extremely media shy, the person I encountered in court was a kind, gentle soul who only cared about one thing: justice.

He treated all his colleagues - irrespective of gender, race or creed - with the utmost respect. By joining AfriForum, Nel will play right into the hands of his enemies, who will predictably react with a "there you go; we always knew" response.

Why is AfriForum loathed by so many people?

"I'm sure Afrikaans people are rejoicing currently. Their beloved son is coming home to fight the swart gevaar. Abelungu oSathane," tweeted @MsZondi06 - a sentiment expressed by hundreds of people on social media after the news broke that Nel was joining AfriForum.

Of course Twitter isn't a scientific poll of public sentiment, but I would guess that by far the majority of South Africans (including whites) would be surprised that Nel was considering joining AfriForum.

AfriForum is the "civil rights movement" of the Solidarity trade union. Their explicit aim is to protect the constitutional rights of white, Afrikaans-speaking people. Apart from a labour case involving coloured prison warders, the majority of their campaigns and cases have been about fighting transformation and affirmative action in South Africa.

Do they have a right to do so? Absolutely. Their campaigns vary from the noble (fixing potholes in dilapidated towns) to the ridiculous (painting their faces black outside the Union Buildings to protest affirmative action).

They have now enlisted the services of private investigator Paul O'Sullivan. Nel will allegedly pursue private prosecutions on their behalf. This is a clever PR strategy by an organisation yearning for wider appeal and acceptance.

But Nel should know better. Every private prosecution AfriForum brings to court will rightfully be treated with suspicion as an attack on black people in defence of white privilege, even when it isn't. Nel should consider this before signing on the dotted line, if he hasn't done so yet.


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