About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Aug 2001: Heath, Willem

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POM. Where to begin? Maybe we should start with the circumstances in which in effect you were dismissed either by one way or another from the Unit, how that came about and whether or not it was related to the Public Accounts Committee wanting you to become part of the investigation into the arms deal, the over-ruling by the caucus, Andrew Feinstein standing down and the whole mess that continues.

WH. We have to go right back about six, seven months.

POM. We did our last interview in September last year.

WH. My goodness. Yes, you indicated to me that you would like to have some indication of how it came about that I eventually left my position as head of the Unit. What happened is that in November last year the Constitutional Court brought out a finding that a judge should not be head of the Unit as that could lead to a perception that the strict division between the judiciary and the executive is not well maintained or properly maintained in that particular position and therefore it is unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court, therefore, brought out a judgment which indicated that a judge should not be head of this Unit. After that I had a meeting with the minister.

POM. Did the government take the action to the court?

WH. There was actually another party consisting of a few lawyers who had taken the matter to the Constitutional Court in which they claimed, first of all, that the court should find that a judge should not be head of the Unit and secondly they brought in certain objections to the proclamation in terms of which the case against the attorneys, or the lawyers, was referred to us. The Constitutional Court on both issues then found in their favour which led then to a situation where a judge would therefore not be suitable in that position. The Constitutional Court postponed their finding, or extended the finding for a year with the effect that they actually gave the government the opportunity to effect certain amendments to the legislation within a year in order to rectify the position, or to correct the position. The government was in quite a hurry to change the situation, and I might have to go back just now, but in March the legislation was amended which then made provision for a situation where any person who is not a judge, any suitable person who is not a judge, could be appointed as head of the Unit. Thereafter of course they would have to appoint somebody else as head of the Unit.  Going back a little bit, in December

POM. Could they have made legislation that said otherwise? Could they have made legislation that would have provided that a judge could have been head of the Unit?

WH. They could have amended the constitution to make provision for that. They would have to do that. I am not sure that there would or would not have been opposition to that because at this stage it's difficult to say whether anybody would have opposed that but in principle there could have been opposition to that and therefore they were left with the easy solution and that is to amend the legislation which applies to the Special Investigating Unit.

. I had a meeting with the Minister of Justice in December, after the Constitutional Court judgment, and during the course of that meeting I indicated to him that I was prepared to resign as a judge if they were interested to appoint me as head of the Unit in that capacity. He did not react to that during the course of the meeting. I did not really put any pressure on him to react to that but he had arranged a press meeting immediately after that and at the media meeting the question was put to him by this journalist and he then reacted by saying that if I would be one of the candidates the government would have to consider me as an alternative, or as one of the candidates for the appointment. The general trend was that they were not interested to appoint me as head of the Unit in that different capacity.

. After that, of course, there was the speech by the President in January when he decided not to refer the arms deal to the Unit and during the course of that special TV interview he indicated that they should not trust me. He made the allegation that I had been lying to the government and in particular he blamed me for drafting organograms which were used by in the course of that programme. On the organograms he himself, that's Mbeki, as well as Mandela were indicated as potential culprits in the arms deal and he accused me of having drafted the organograms and that I was, therefore, in fact not only investigating or planning to investigate a number of other people but that I was actually planning to investigate Mbeki and Mandela.

POM. The President said this in an interview at a press conference in January?

WH. No, he made a speech which was broadcast directly on TV and he made this statement during the course of the speech.

POM. 2001?

WH. Yes. That was a speech which I think was broadcast as a live broadcast on 13th or 14th January, I'm not sure now. The truth of the matter was of course that I did not draft the organograms. In fact I had never seen those organograms at the time when he made the speech. Shortly after that a journalist, who is the editor of Noseweek, Martin Weltz, was interviewed by the media and he admitted that he and other people had actually drafted the organograms. He made a very explicit statement that they had never even given the organograms to me and that I was in fact unaware of the existence of the organograms. The President reacted to that by saying that that was merely a collusion between myself and Martin Weltz to try and create the impression that I was innocent of the allegation that the President and Mandela were involved in the arms deal. Of course that was not true and that was a terrible allegation which was made and which of course was afterwards again denied by the journalist. By that time it became clear that the government was entertaining so much animosity

POM. Had the editor of Noseweek drawn up these organograms because of information he had collected or was he doing it in some kind of satirical way or was he - ?

WH. Well, as so many other journalists, he was interested in the arms deal, as so many other journalists he had been investigating the arms deal and he had been collecting evidence and he and people who are known to him then sat down to try and establish who could possibly be involved in the arms deal. So that's where it came from. It was purely their speculation. They were just speculating at that stage.

. The unfortunate situation is of course that the day before Mbeki made the speech in terms of which he announced that the Unit was not going to investigate the arms deal, Mbeki actually discussed it with Mandela and from general reports, I am speculating now to a certain extent, Mandela was obviously very unhappy with that. First of all there was a very good relationship between Mandela and myself, there had always been, and Mandela was extremely shocked that I then allegedly was accusing him of being involved in the arms deal. That has actually soured the relationship between Mr Mandela and myself.

. So all of that indicated to me, and then getting back to Mbeki and the Minister of Justice, all that indicated to me that there was so much animosity and that there was no possibility that they would appoint me as head of the Unit in a different capacity. I then decided to notify them that I was going to take the long leave which was due to me for a number of years already. In fact by that time two series of long leave was due to me already because there was never any time to take long leave or take leave for that matter at the Unit and I decided to take long leave to get out of circulation and therefore to test the air and to see whether the government wouldn't cool down with regard to its aggression against the Unit. There was little communication at that stage.

POM. But it was also aggression directed against you personally.

WH. Yes. Well that was a very direct attack on me.

POM. Just to back up a little, when you said Mbeki said you were lying was he referring specifically to the allegations you had supposedly made regarding himself and Mandela?

WH. Yes. And then of course eventually when he dealt with the admission by the journalist he was obviously then dealing with the allegation that I was not aware of the existence of the organogram.

. A lot of things, of course, happened in between which you may or may not be aware of. Already in December the Minister of Justice's office announced that the Unit was not going to be involved in litigation. Now that announcement was made by the Minister of Justice and not the President and it was of course for the President to make that decision. That announcement by the minister's office was made the day before Christmas. Then the day after Christmas I had I think about 45 calls from the media concerning this topic and I then explained to them, first of all it's not for the minister to make the decision and, secondly, that any investigation in which the Unit could not take part, could not act in an investigation into the procurement process or the validity of the contract, and therefore it would lead to a situation which would be rather useless because the crux of the matter was first of all the procurement process, any irregularities, corruption there, and, secondly, the question whether the contracts were valid and none of the other agencies have got the power to investigate such civil issues which obviously the Unit can investigate.

POM. So those two areas came under your Unit?

WH. Yes, they were supposed to come under the Unit. In fact to go back even further, the Standing Committee of Parliament which was dealing with this issue (I don't know whether you know about that) but the Standing Committee who investigated this matter and had questioned witnesses, employees of the Department of Defence in October last year, made a recommendation that the four agencies, that's the Unit, the Auditor General, the Public Protector or the Ombudsman as well as the National Director for Public Prosecutions should be involved in the investigation and they then suggested a number of meetings.

POM. As well as your Unit?

WH. Yes. They then suggested a number of meetings so that the four institutions could discuss the work, divide the work and then report back to the Standing Committee as to how they were going to deal with the investigation. The first meeting took place, all the institutions were there as well as members of the Standing Committee which included their Vice-Chairman, who is an ANC member.

POM. Andrew Feinstein?

WH. That's right, members of the other agencies and the Unit as well as AND members of the Standing Committee and of course the chairperson.

POM. Gavin Woods.

WH. That's right, and at that meeting it was agreed that we would investigate the procurement process as well as the contracts. We all also agreed that we would require additional finance for a budget for the investigation. It was agreed that the Auditor General would make the calculation and at the second meeting the budget was discussed, again in the presence of Feinstein and Gavin Woods, and we agreed on a budget. Then there was a third meeting and then at that third meeting for the first time the representative of the Public Protector indicated that they were of the view that the Unit should not be involved at that stage in the investigation or the early stage of the investigation.

. Very briefly, I had calls from the Auditor General personally after that in December in which he assured me that he supports the appointment of the Unit and that the rumours that he does not support it are not true.

POM. What grounds did the representative of the Public Prosecutor give for saying that the Unit should not be involved? (The Public Protector advanced no reasons.)

WH. No that's the Auditor General now.


WH. So he indicated he was supportive. A week later he announced during a TV interview that he was not supportive of the Unit's appointment. Out of the blue. It was clear all along that the National Director of Public Prosecutions, he personally, not his staff who were present at the meeting, was not in favour of the appointment of the Unit but he is really a political associate of the Minister of Justice and of the other politicians. He used to be a very active politician, he was very much a politician.

POM. This is Bulelani?

WH. That's right. First of all that was a change as far as the Auditor General was concerned and then of course eventually the Public Protector personally also adopted the attitude that we should not be involved. So notwithstanding the first and second meeting

POM. An agreed budget.

WH. Yes, all of a sudden they turned around, and you may or may not know that at that same point in time the ANC members on the Standing Committee also made their roundabout turn, and they also indicated that the report back was not correct and they don't really support the appointment of the Unit, the whole debate around that. So that's the background as far as that is concerned.

POM. So Andrew Feinstein stepped down?

WH. Yes, he was then told to step down and of course they appointed then a more loyal politician to that position. Anyway all that led to my conclusion that they were not going to appoint me so in terms of the Constitutional Court judgment as well as their clear attitude I realised that I would have to disappear as head of the Unit and I decided to take my long leave to be out of circulation. I was still extremely busy. I still had to go to the office occasionally, once or twice a week, and I started preparing or investigating a new future which is the business that I'm involved in now and of course I continued making those speeches that I'd been invited to make. Then eventually of course I applied for a discharge as a judge and which would also mean the termination of my position at the Unit, notwithstanding the fact that a year had not yet expired, and notwithstanding the fact that they had not yet appointed a new head for the Unit. The reason why I did that, and I was actually persuaded by my friends and by the lawyers that I know, is that if I was given a discharge I would receive a pension, well a percentage of the pension I would otherwise have been entitled to at the age of 70, and that would actually then give my wife a pension if anything should happen to me. The President refused that and that left me with one of two options, either to go back to the bench as a judge or to resign and there were obvious problems going back to the bench. The most important problem is that if I had been acting as a judge after that, in any case in which the government was a party there may have been a perception that I was biased or there may even have been objections against me dealing with the case. There might be even individuals on the other side, in civil cases, who may have objected to that because of the finding of the Constitutional Court that I associated myself with the executive. Those were also the reasons that we advanced to the President to grant me a discharge. So I was left with those two options. I could not go back to the bench and I also wanted to practice the experience that I've built up over the past six years. So I then resigned at the end of May with effect from the end of June which of course left me without a pension after 13 years service as a judge and of course I lost each and every benefit as a judge which I had enjoyed. But that was not important to me. I realised that I was starting a new future but it was difficult in a sense. I was penniless, no salary, no pension apart from any assets that I may have acquired.

POM. It would seem to me, I followed this story when I was out of the country, that the President's action with regard to your request for a discharge was almost personal. In a way your reward for 13 years of public service was to strip you of everything, thank you, there's the door.

WH. [What I'm saying now is not for publication but I think he was just malicious and they were trying to use the last thing that they could use to take revenge.] Yes, therefore, it actually became very personal and it was simply refused. We don't know the reasons. We would be entitled, would have been entitled to apply for the reasons but that would have taken a long time, it would have delayed the whole issue and by that time I was ready, almost ready, I was very much prepared in my mind to start a new future and I know that it was going to lead to nothing (the reasons of the President) and if his reasons were not clear knowing that I would become involved in litigation, the litigation could have gone up to two years and I was not prepared to waste time on that. So I don't know what the reasons are. He has no valid reasons but the fact is that he has refused and I was faced with a resignation.

POM. What do you think led to, and we covered some of the ground last year, the increasing animosity between the government and your Unit and then the personalisation of the whole thing? Did it begin with Trevor Manuel saying that the Unit had cost a lot and hadn't actually saved the state a lot of money and you rebutted by showing how much the Unit had in fact saved or uncovered in terms of your investigations? You refuted him and it then landed up confrontational at that point? Or, as you talked about before, were you in fact being too successful in exposing corruption in both public and private sectors and while you were supposed to do a good job you weren't supposed to do an excellent job?

WH. Well Trevor Manuel had the matter that I was involved in that he was involved with and I think it may have made a minor contribution but since the appointment, as we also discussed last year, of the new Minister of Justice he had not been sending work through to the Unit and I continuously battled with him and for that matter with the cabinet because of that and I continuously made the statement that they were wasting government money and assets because of that so I did not allow them to get away with it. I continuously also remarked

POM. Now were they sending cases to other investigative units or simply letting cases slide?

WH. After about 120 cases that were waiting to be referred to us they'd referred maybe about ten to other institutions. Those cases have never been investigated because all those cases at that point in time fell outside the parameters of the jurisdiction of the other institutions so they were just simply not investigated and the government just continued to lose a lot of money and assets and I never allowed them to forget that. At the same time of course there was no increase of any substance in our budget and I complained about that repeatedly. I think the crux of the matter is that when we applied for the proclamation in the arms deal and our first motivation was based on, I think we may have discussed that, on the Auditor General's report they realised that they were confronted with a real problem there because there was so much support for our participation in that and there was so much pressure on them by the public, by the other political parties, from inside the ANC and of course the public, that they really had serious problems. The minister just simply ignored our application for a proclamation at that stage. When the Standing Committee brought out their report we amended the motivation, made it much stronger, and even then there was no reaction although the minister indicated that they would consider that. When the minister made his announcement that they were not going to refer the case to the Unit in December, I've already indicated that to you, that led to so much animosity between the government and the media and the public that the government was under so much pressure and of course their attitude was that I was causing the pressure, it was my fault that they were under pressure and why do I want the investigation?

. When the media started calling me in December I pointed out, made the point as I indicated to you, but I also repeatedly explained in detail why the other institutions cannot investigate the crux of the arms deal and therefore it could lead to no solution either way. Every time when politicians made a statement which was not based on fact or not based upon these legal principles the media would contact me and I would react to that. So the government then there was almost a continuous debate between the government and the Unit and myself on those issues. The government was clearly losing that and the only option left for them was then to start attacking me personally and they started it slowly and then of course the President just lashed out at me in that first speech. It was called the 'State of the Nation speech' in which he then made those allegations against me and also made the allegations that there was no basis for an investigation by the Unit. They did not comment on any investigation by the three other agencies but if there was a basis for the other agencies to investigate the matter each and every ground on which they could investigate would actually also form a basis for an investigation by the Unit in addition to any other legal or factual grounds that the Unit could base the investigation on.

. So that was serious hypocrisy and unfortunately for them the media and the public saw through that and inside their party they had so much trouble so the few politicians who were driving this whole issue, this whole debate, they must have become so I think they developed such a panic that eventually it led to this undignified speech by Mbeki and that's actually how it was called at the time, it was completely not dignified. He lost his temper, he was raging.

POM. Was this in parliament?

WH. Yes the speech was in parliament. It was in the afternoon, on a Friday afternoon, I think 14th January. I may be wrong, it may have been the 12th but it doesn't matter. You can get hold of that speech from any journalist or from parliament. So even by making that speech and the manner in which he made the speech he lost face, he lost that battle as well. Nobody believed him and the media just continued their battle against him. We then decided that from that point onwards I was not going to participate in any battle, debate, whatever you want to call it. We just issued a statement denying that I was involved in any dishonesty or that I had any knowledge of the organograms. After that the media, and international media of course, as well as the public, they just fought the battle and then of course, as I indicated to you, the journalists made the admission that they were involved in that and that admission must have come as a complete surprise to Mbeki and his advisors, maybe the Minister of Justice. They lost ground again and notwithstanding the fact that I was quiet at that stage the battle to have us appointed, the Unit appointed, it continued in parliament, it continued in the Standing Committee, it continued in the media and just in general as far as the public is concerned. Wherever I came across members of the ANC, ordinary members of the ANC, or members of parliament but not ministers, they just hammered the leaders. There was so much pressure and that I think increased the animosity against me as a person. So I think that's basically the story.

POM. Looking at the investigation as it proceeds and we've been back here about a month and I've been following it very avidly mainly I suppose through the Mail & Guardian reports, but there is obvious conflict of interest and documents that they have in their possession that the government has classified as confidential and the government's apparent efforts to prevent the star witness from giving evidence, the whole thing smacks of not even a very sophisticated cover up, just like using a hammer to blunt finding out the truth.

WH. Yes. My comment on the whole process, the procedure which they have adopted now, is that they've decided to conduct a hearing without first investigating the case.

POM. So the order is wrong.

WH. That order is wrong. Of course a hearing can be a tool to advance or to make a contribution to an investigation but you should first of all conduct a very thorough investigation. You should get access to all documents and as far as the Unit is concerned we had the powers and we would have fought to get all the documents that are relevant which are now not apparently being given to these three agencies.

POM. So you had the power to get the documents whereas the three agencies that are now involved don't have the powers to actually demand, legally demand all the documents?

WH. Yes. The Auditor General has got no powers, the Public Protector only for a limited purpose and that is to investigate the conduct of a state employee, Ngcuka's group can only demand documents which are relevant to a criminal prosecution so it's limited to that. So we would have done that. Secondly, those three institutions do not have the expertise that the Unit has with regard to investigations and to find the evidence. Those factors, the expertise, the determination, the powers were some of the reasons, and maybe some of the most important reasons, why the government fought to keep the Unit out of the investigation. The most important reason is of course that we would be investigating the procurement process, the legality, the validity of that as well as the validity of the contracts which none of these other institutions can investigate. They fought to keep us out of the investigation and that is where all the aggression came from, the insistence on the one hand from the media and the public and of course from us and on the other hand their determination not to get the Unit involved. So that led to this absolute clash and which of course then reached the high or low water mark, if one can ever call it that, in January.

POM. Were you ever able to get the opportunity to repair your relationship with Mr Mandela?

WH. I haven't had the opportunity up to now. He wrote a letter to me just afterwards, I don't think that's very important now, just to indicate to me that I could still use him as a reference on my CV. I actually approached him before the time. I am still looking for the opportunity, I will still make a plan to try and render these acts but he is in this unbelievably difficult position that he's got top party members on the one hand and then myself on the other hand and I am just worried that I might just put him in a very difficult position and I don't want to do that. I've got too much admiration for him, too much respect for him, and I don't want to place him in an awkward position.

POM. But at least to the extent of saying that you never prepared any documents that made allegations of his involvement?

WH. I think by now he knows that. He may even have known that towards the end of January already but he still had the President who insisted that what the journalist has said was a lie. So he was and he is in a very difficult position, but I will go back to that, I intend doing something about that. I've given you a very long reply to your simple question of how did it come about that I'm out now.

POM. The three units are now, having been given the responsibility of both the hearings and any subsequent investigation, are they in your opinion, or legally they do not have either the instruments or the expertise to carry out a proper investigation in any event? (They do not have the instruments or the expertise).

WH. Yes, I am convinced of that.

POM. So is that just really Hofmeyr doesn't turn around and suddenly decide - I think that the Unit should be involved here, we are the people who have the expertise to get at the bottom of this, and do a final job very quickly in the same tradition as you were?

WH. Well I think my explanation as far as that is concerned is much more complicated. Maybe I must just go very briefly back to an issue and that's the question of the present investigation. At the hearing they don't allow any cross-examination and I doubt there are any informers, as we call them, who would come to light to disclose a lot of information there and without cross-examination you can't test the witnesses. As far as Willie Hofmeyr is concerned I suspect that he is going to become the hero. He's going to persuade the ministers to get rid of the proclamation requirements so that they can investigate any case without the intervention of the President. I don't know whether he would persuade them to get the Unit involved because the government has declared repeatedly that the Unit cannot investigate it and they based that also on the Constitutional Court judgment, which of course is not a correct interpretation of that at all. I know Willie Hofmeyr relatively well, he's a very pleasant person. The two of us on a personal level always had a very good relationship, but he is a politician and what I would like to see is whether his loyalty would be with the party or with justice. If he is given that case everything that he's going to do would have to be tested against the expertise and the powers of the Unit and the desire to investigate it absolutely thoroughly. If he is going to investigate it with some loyalty to the party it will make no contribution to the investigation. That's the one thing.

. The other thing is of course that the Unit has lost many of its members. I think they've got about 60 members left who started well in 1998/99 it had 115 members, since the beginning of this year I think at least 40 members have resigned so the Unit has lost a lot of expertise. Therefore I don't say that would necessarily be a handicap but the fact is that they have lost a lot of expertise, a lot of the members were just grabbed by other institutions and they were forewarned to look for other positions because of the uncertainly created. The minister repeatedly said, and said again in December, it's just a temporary institution and they would find jobs for the members as soon as they had completed their work in government departments. That of course was a ridiculous statement to make because they are not government employees now, you can't just appoint a person in a position in a government department. You would have to advertise, you would have to interview people and you would have to appoint not only the right person but in view of the Equity Act you would have to give certain preference to a certain group of people. So that's a stupid statement to make. Anyway.

. The fact is that Willie Hofmeyr is probably going to do his utmost on the level of getting amendments to the legislation which we had been fighting for for three to four years now and he might get rid of the proclamation issue, but he would still have to prove that any investigation he becomes involved in, and particularly if he does become involved in the arms deal, he's going to go right to the crux of the matter regardless of the interests of the party.

POM. This is, I suppose in a way I almost know the answer, but a situation in which one party is so powerful that its members, sometimes senior members, occupy all positions of power in every institution in the country and that loyalty to the party is what it's all about. President Mandela's first statement when he came out of prison, "I'm a loyal member of the ANC, nothing more", that loyalty to the party supersedes every other consideration. There are bound to be conflicts and the situation has created those conflicts of not only interests but putting considerations of party above considerations of justice.

WH. Yes, that's quite a strange picture as far as politics is concerned. You find that in so many countries, first world countries, more particularly in first world countries, but in so far as the position requires independence, and I believe that the Unit and some of the other institutions of course, require absolute independence not only in law but also as far as a perception is concerned, as far as work is concerned. I am afraid that they have appointed political people now to those positions, people who have been extremely active in politics and then all of that leads to a situation that it would inevitably lead to a clash and if any clash is to be avoided on the basis that party interests would enjoy preference then of course the work of that institution will suffer and not only the work of that institution but the interests of the country will suffer as a result of that.  I am afraid that it may be in line with what Mr Mandela said at that time. I don't think that Mr Mandela eventually practised that, at least not in all respects, but now it's become a very common and very strong practice, from the Commissioner of Police right through all the agencies and you find that all of them are ANC members and all of them very active ANC politicians.

POM. What lessons did you take out of this whole experience? What lessons are there for the country and how would you evaluate President Mbeki's most recent remark that there will be a crackdown on corruption and that a government minister can't simply leave a position of being minister and move laterally into a business that is connected in some way or has been with the ministry?

WH. I don't believe that Mbeki is serious when he makes that allegation. If he was serious he would have maintained institutions which are independent, which have the expertise to investigate corruption independently and also which would investigate in government circles as of course the private sector. Secondly, by reason of this lack of independence in key institutions in this country corruption cannot be fought effectively and therefore corruption will not only continue on the basis that we do have at present at this stage in the country, or practised at this stage in the country, but it might even increase and become easier. We also have already a sick society, a society with a dishonest culture and with the example set by leaders in our country, not only political leaders of course, it's the business world, the churches, but the example that they set is an example which is conducive to a culture of dishonesty.

POM. Now when you say we have a dishonest culture could you elaborate a little on that?

WH. We have so much dishonesty in this country and we find that things which are dishonest are regarded by ordinary people, and of course by leaders, not as honest but they find it acceptable to practise that. So, to use an example, if you take something from your employer it's acceptable. If you do not prosecute somebody who has been accused of serious dishonesty you actually practise a culture of dishonesty and you promote a culture of dishonesty. Our moral standards have gone down. We are prepared to condone dishonesty.

POM. Would the Tony Yengeni case be an example?

WH. That's a good example, the example of the present Minister of Justice who had made serious allegations against the Auditor General's office when he was Minister of Mineral & Energy Affairs. He was never punished. That case is still pending. The Public Protector recommended that steps should have been taken against the Premier of Mpumalanga, no steps were ever taken.

POM. Matthews Phosa?

WH. No his successor. Our criminal justice system is in a very poor condition. Our police are understaffed, unskilled to a very large extent , many are corrupt, and the perception is that the government is not doing much about it. But because of this top level acceptance of dishonesty you find on much lower levels people practise dishonesties, income tax, all sorts of dishonesty.

POM. Where did this emerge from?

WH. Well of course we inherited a lot of that from the National Party government, not so much as practised inside the NP because that was, as you know, always top secret what they had been doing, but the people from that era they know, those who were moving in the close circles at that stage, they know. The homelands were extremely corrupt, a lot of fraud there. So the present government unfortunately inherited all of that and to the extent that people other than those in the homelands did not know, did not practise these dishonesties that were practised by people in the homelands, they have learnt that very quickly and because of the lack of financial and administrative control in government departments it is so easy for people to become involved in malpractice and again disciplinary action is more the exception than the rule. Again, because people don't get prosecuted, they don't get convicted or they don't get dismissed, what is the inference? It's fine to be dishonest and we've got a serious problem with that in this country. All of that is extremely visible to the international world and that is why we have serious problems with investment in this country. We're supposed to be an extremely rich country, I said it to you last year, but we're losing so much money on the inside and the people are filling their pockets. Where do they take the money to? They don't invest it in our country. It's offshore investments, they take it out of the country. So we become poorer and poorer. It makes it impossible for the government to render the essential services like housing, pensions, health services, so it's almost a catch-22 situation. The government is running out of money because of the loss of money and corruption and fraud have become so easy for people on the inside because of the lack of control. That same lack of control of course makes them easy targets for the syndicates, people on the outside, the businesses, and they benefit substantially from that. All of that, again, is not a secret in other countries and therefore you find that people are hesitant to invest in this country. Investments have gone up from 1994 up to approximately 1997 because of the confidence that the international world has had in the new government and the figure of Mandela, but it's going down and it's been going down since 1998.

. Let me just repeat that. I'm not suggesting I'm an expert on financial investments or investments as such but I know from experience, from discussions with me by international journalists, journalists in other countries, business people and occasionally even politicians, that they don't trust the present situation in SA and of course we have got this serious problem with the crime rate in SA. Again, that's basically uncontrollable because of our poor justice system, the courts are not running nicely, prosecutions are poor, Police investigations are poor and you don't find convictions as often as you should have convictions and that creates not only a lack of confidence but, again, that promotes the image that you can get away with crime.

POM. An ordinary person contemplating a crime - and if you were to calculate the probability of being caught, prosecuted and convicted, the 'benefits' of carrying out the crime might far outweigh the costs you might incur by being caught?

WH. Yes and the risk (there is very little risk) that you may be convicted.  It's very sad and I wish I could do something about it.

POM. Now you mentioned in our last interview that there had been maybe a difference between corruption under the NP government and present corruption, that corruption now had spread into the private sector to probably a greater extent than it had during the NP's 45 year tenure or whatever.

WH. I don't think that's exactly what I said. What I did say is that it has become more transparent now, first of all, therefore we are much more aware of corruption now. Secondly, because of the open borders we have found that international syndicates have moved in and so very often they are closely linked to the private sector but they operate so often inside government departments and therefore that has made it worse.

POM. Syndicates operating within government departments?

WH. Yes. Now you've got serious syndicate operations in government departments, your formal syndicate operations and then your less formal one where people form groups and they plan things together and one of the members of the group is just a civil servant, a government official and the others are outsiders. We have seen that in our housing subsidy cases at the Unit, the attorney would be on the outside, he would have his staff and he may have somebody inside in the government department. You would find it with your housing subsidy where contractors have got their contacts on the inside in the Housing Department and therefore they would get away with money for houses which they have not built. So you find your informal groups and then of course your highly organised syndicates.

POM. And there are more highly organised syndicates operating than ever before?

WH. Yes.

POM. With a high degree of impunity if one is just to cover what is who is prosecuting and for what.

WH. It's a very high degree of impunity from that point of view but of course the syndicates that have moved in from other countries are highly skilled, they employ highly skilled people, and unless we train people to become highly skilled investigators or employ highly skilled people as members of agencies which investigate corruption and white collar crimes for that matter, we cannot even attempt to apprehend them, to catch them, because they will always be a few steps ahead, let alone just one step ahead. That's what we believed in at the Unit, in highly skilled people who could at least make serious progress in their investigation of corruption or other matters.

POM. Would you say that corruption overall is on the increase rather than any firm grip, any holding ground having been established?

WH. We don't have any firm grip. We don't manage, we haven't succeeded in managing corruption. We don't manage it at this stage. Then of course at this stage, well let me rather add this, I cannot say at this stage that it has increased in the past few months for example but because of the lack of expertise at investigations by the agencies, and that includes the Unit, people are getting away at this stage who may not have got away before. At least you've got that and then of course you would know from, it's just inexperience, if people know that they will be getting away with crime it's so much easier to commit crime and you will find more and more crime.

POM. Every day I am struck by when you pick up a newspaper from almost the retail level, and this would mostly apply to government I suppose, to wholesale there is an allegation maybe against one of the officials in the Housing Department or officials in the Welfare Department of officials here or officials there at various levels of seniority, that if you were a foreigner just glancing through the newspapers every day you'd be saying, Oh my God! Now I come from a country which at the moment has had eight tribunals investigating corruption going on for the last several years, so we're not thinking of a paradigm of virtue but they all involve deals that were made between specific individuals rather than a corrupt system. It would be highly placed individuals who are using their positions to get zoning laws and things like that defined.

WH. Yes, what you are saying is that in your country you find more individual cases of corruption or more individuals involved in corruption than group corruption, or government corruption.

POM. That's right.

WH. Well of course what you read in the papers is to a certain extent very one-sided because in the private sector you will find that business people tend not to report corruption that is taking place in their companies because of their reputation which they wish to protect. For that reason you find a lot of corruption and fraud in the private sector which is just not reported. It's also serious in the private sector but the corruption that's committed in government circles is so often disclosed because of the people involved, because of the number of people involved, because the newspapers are actually earmarking the government as opposed to the private sector and they are emphasising the government, or specialising in disclosing corruption in government circles. If they would do the same in the private sector they would not succeed to the same extent but they would disclose much more corruption and fraud.

POM. Do you think that, again what the President has been - what some people might call democratic centralism, the increasing centralisation of power in the presidency, the downgrading of parliament even of its standing committees, this redeployment policy of placing high placed cadres in both parastatals and in the private sector, all create an ambience that is more conducive to corruption because it's all ANC people, I'm just saying it could be XYZ people, who occupy all positions of power in all institutions in the country and are creeping into the private sector, what's called redeployment?

WH. Well it's been generally stated particularly in the past eight, nine months in SA by people in parliament, people in politics, by academics, other professional people, that the executive has done a lot of harm, a lot of damage to our democratic system because of the impact of the activities on parliament which was supposed to be the one leg of the democracy, the legislative leg of our democracy, the controlling leg of our democracy and by interfering to the extent that they have allegedly interfered in our standing committees by disarming them that is regarded as serious interference in the legislative arm of democracy in our country. Again, of course, that's promoting the image that people are getting away with dishonesty. At the same time in parliament the ANC has strengthened its position by appointing ANC members or by removing some ANC members and replacing them with other ANC members. I think that as a factor is also magnified, increasing the problem that we actually have and this sort of collection of power is most definitely not a democratic approach. Therefore maintaining and extending and practising democracy, the impression is, the perception is, that it's almost the opposite now. This is a very serious problem in the eyes of SA.

POM. Do you find when you're abroad that these issues are raised with you by people with whom you associate?

WH. Yes.

POM. Do they have an idea already fixed in their minds of what SA is like or is becoming? Do they say, well SA is like your typical African state, sliding towards one party rule, faces corruption? Well in your view has there been any strengthening and deepening of democracy since 1994 or has it gone the other way?

WH. Most definitely a strengthening, an extension of democracy since 1994. Since 1998/99 it started swinging the other way. On your question of what sort of discussion takes place when I'm overseas, people do not necessarily have full insight or a lot of insight into what's going on but they do observe activities which impact on democracy. They do observe the tendency to interfere in the legislative leg of democracy and, of course, they do observe the appointment of party members to all key positions. I find it, as I've indicated to you before, extremely difficult of course to deal with that. I don't want to destroy the country and I don't want to cause more damage, therefore I deal with it as diplomatically as possible but I'm not lying and I will never lie when I'm overseas. I at least try to point to the positive points in the country and there are many positive things in our country. But people in other countries are very observant and they have started associating us with African countries which is very, very sad from the point of view of democracy, point of view of growth, our financial economic growth and I would like to promote those issues obviously. Most South Africans like to promote that. In fact that's one of my objectives, one of my ideals in my new business, is to at least on a part time basis or in between to promote investment in SA and to promote a much better image of SA.

POM. I know my 20 minutes are up. This goes back to the dishonesty factor. This has nothing to do with corruption, I am amazed since I take a very deep interest in HIV/AIDS here and work with some people on programmes, I am amazed at the absolute lack of concern about the issues, that there is no fear factor, that there is no national consensus or political leader saying we are on the verge of a catastrophe that is going to change the whole structure of our society, not just demographically but socially and politically. In a way we're a dying country. Population is going to start decreasing in 2011, it is going to start going down and yet the President goes on the BBC and almost sidelines it by saying more people are killed by violence. It's almost a gratuitous dismissal of what should be, at least to me, the number one priority. If I were a foreign investor I would say, well if I build here I need X number of skilled workers but for every skilled worker I train I would have to train about two or three because they're going to be dead within ten years so it's just simply not a good place to invest.

WH. Maybe from a political managerial point of view one cannot expect a politician to admit that it's a dying nation or it's that serious. So to that extent I do have some appreciation for not admitting it to that extent. What of course is extremely sad is the denial of the effects and that has affected the whole nation.

POM. And that denial continues.

WH. Yes and because of that attitude and the consensus between the Minister of Health and the President, health assistance is actually not forthcoming and therefore nothing is done, nothing drastic is done to solve this problem and the nation is of course in an absolute dilemma because of that. The nation is very sad because of that and there's so much dissatisfaction on all levels, from the poorest level, on higher levels, right up to the sophisticated people that I would think that the government has committed a serious error by adopting this attitude, this policy, this theory. Of course we would have to do something very drastic to do this. We should actually call in experts to assist in that instead of getting experts to try and promote the President's point of view that he has expressed so often. I have not considered that but now that you've put it to me I can imagine that other countries would consider this as a factor whether it's safe, whether it's profitable, whether it's a financial proposition to invest in this country if you have got, as you call it, a dying nation or at least a nation which is subject to

POM. Sinking.

WH. Yes. I don't think we are over populated so there's no solution from that point of view.

POM. The birth rate is now down to I think 2.9, it's the lowest in Africa. Not the mortality rate, just the birth rate itself is down. The mortality rate as well.

WH. That's a serious problem and I'm sure that that's already impacting on our economy, not only on the inside but also from the outside and we need to do something about it drastically, but in view of the repeated statements made by the President I don't see any change in the foreseeable future and that's serious.

POM. I always see every government report when it refers to AIDS always puts it in the context of poverty and it doesn't say it's due to poverty but it's almost as though there's a script that if you refer to HIV/AIDS you must refer to it in this context so the context becomes poverty, not HIV, and there are many other countries in the world that are far poorer than SA, even in the region that are far poorer than SA, that don't have the same problems, proportions or dimensions.

WH. I think very many people are frustrated by that sort of statement and that's very sad. That's actually something that should be fought with everything that we've got but I'm afraid that we're not doing that.

. Well, very nice seeing you again.

POM. You too and I hope the business expands and grows with lots to investigate.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.