Gerrie Nel makes the wrong move

2017-02-02 10:47

Gerrie "The Bulldog" Nel has of course earned himself a great soft spot deep in the crevices of many people's hearts in this country and abroad. His work in the state investigating and prosecuting arms is well documented and speaks for itself.

Definitely joining an organisation of AfriForum's posture invites enough and necessary debate in society. Like any other individual he has the right to freedom of association. In question is not Nel's track record in the service of the state. However, his commitment - going forward - to championing our constitutionalism with all its pertinent calls for redress and championing a plural society with perilous fundamentalism discouraged is put to test. We must remember that Nel was a public servant, expected to uphold the ideals of our democratic order and know what vehicles can drive these ideals.

I love Gerrie Nel's work but this does not mean all his career moves are beyond criticism. Before you bring another argument that people are using "why are black people not starting an entity that champions the struggles of black people?", just hang on. This argument is irrelevant in interrogating Nel's career move, it belongs in another context where a need for vehicles to champion black people's struggles is necessary. That discussion should start with a critical review of formations such as the BMF, BLA, BBC, NAFCOC, etc. and the role they have (not) played in championing the struggles of black people in the contemporary era beyond 1994 - influenced by many problems, including proximity to the ruling party.

Gerrie Nel is a fine legal mind but is he morally inclined to champion a cause (fighting corruption) by using any means necessary? Is he truly teaching us a lesson about some of the (visible) deterioration of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that he now sees a solution resting primarily outside of state institutions in dealing with political favouritism in how elite cases are handled by the NPA? An important lesson can be drawn from his actions. However, it does not automatically exonerate him from scrutiny in so far as joining AfriForum is concerned.

AfriForum is a sectarian movement or club, which is not interested in the holistic process of advancing our constitutional democracy. It is concerned with the fortunes and prospects of a minority group, especially the Afrikaner. Like any sectarian movement interested in buying itself a place in the universe of public acceptability and credibility, it will often commit acts that woo society towards its favour. Yet, vigilance must be exercised. A Private Prosecution Arm propped by AfriForum will not be without any biases that are racially charged in its pursuits. The litigations to be pursued will fundamentally be driven by the sectarian ideology and politics that undergird its existence.

What disappoints me the most in Nel's move is a realisation that his desire for societal relevance and chasing an ideal he might genuinely believe in has so many political blind spots. Effectively he is allowing his good name to be used to cleanse a part of the AfriForum's compromised public standing in society. While corruption is a problem in South Africa, there are means that will never justify the end. I would have expected Nel to be a greater and better champion of our constitution, meaning I would have expected him to slot himself in some progressive space that will support the formation, strengthening and championing of our democratic institutions.

His choosing to go and work with a bully and rogue element like Paul O'Sullivan who uses trickery and shady dealings to solicit information in high end intelligence circles lives less to be desired. While Paul himself appears to be a crusader of truth, some of his pursuits seem to be guided by personal interests whose origins we do not know. His ability to break through intelligence barriers and many other obstacles has always made me uncomfortable to a point of viewing him as a spy that is a threat to South Africa. What happens when Nel begins to prosecute on evidence that is acquired through covert means that he may know are illegal but are difficult to prove? For example, in the spy tapes saga, we are still unaware how those were released to the hands of Jacob Zuma’s advisors. Yet, they remained central to many litigation proceedings. Two wrongs don’t make it right and the proximity of Paul O’Sullivan to Nel could prove a threat to the work of AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Arm. Therein lies a prospect that Gerrie Nel is willing to compromise and place ethics aside for a moment to appear doing public good work. That public work in its standing would not be credible.

Finally, Gerrie Nel’s fiasco opens our eyes to wonder: how many other people in our public service find resonance with organisations like AfriForum? This is a threat because a wide presence of such people may partly be responsible for stagnating the transformative agenda within the public space of governance. These are not small matters and we must always be alive to them. A friend asked me: “Are white people not allowed to have sectarian interests and organisations? Surely our Constitution and courts are capable of keeping these sectarian interests in check. AfriForum has not heard its way all the time when it came to some of their narrow interests at our courts. The test of the pudding will be in the cases they pursue. Until we see their strategy in action on this private prosecution crusade, I reserve my judgement.”

My response was:

“They certainly are allowed but that does not make their causes legitimate and worthy of occupying a central position in society. AfriForum's outlook on our society defeats logic and the type of society we wish to build. Highlighting concepts of white genocide in farms as though crime and murder exclusively attacks white people and worse still as though there is a disproportionate distribution of murder with the bulk of it suffered by white people.

At least we agree that they have narrow interests. I would expect someone who has served the state to wish to associate themselves with entities that have a broader and more progressive outlook on the direction our society must champion. I have addressed why even though some cases they take up would be legitimate but they carry a political motive.

While in court the motive behind a case may not be more important than the merits of the case but it is important to guard against people who use legitimate causes for opportunistic benefits. Case in point is Hlaudi Motsoeneng's 90%, which I did not support mainly because I knew he was buying himself public favour to gain immunity from the public's vilification when he messes up, which to an extent worked. This Nel move falls in the same boat for me. AfriForum cannot pretend or let alone posture as the guardian of the South African state”.

Whatever choices Nel makes, his open support (by accepting employment) for sectarianism that undermines the transformative democratic pursuits of our country leaves little to be desired.

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