By Johan Pretorius
When people hear the name Gerrie Nel, they know exactly who the man is: that tenacious and never-say-die State Prosecutor in the televised Oscar Pistorius case who impressed everybody with his ability to cut to the chase and keep piling on the pressure. He even picked up the nickname ‘Bulldog’ because of his powerful, razor-sharp legal arguments and single-minded dedication to get a conviction with the longest possible sentence fitting the crime.
Addressing an audience on Wednesday last week in the Margate town hall, Nel declared that he had been a prosecutor for 36 years, something that was in his blood and a career which he enjoyed tremendously. He had the opportunity to be involved in several high profile prosecutions, including the Jackie Selebi case. As we all know, in all of these he made his presence felt as a professional, dedicated and most of all, respected State Prosecutor. Nel said he had planned to retire in five years, but about eighteen months ago AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel approached him about the possibility of starting an independent prosecution unit under the AfriForum banner. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Kriel told him he would be totally independent, would not be told what to do, and would be given all the personnel and infrastructure that he needed. Above all, it would be constitutional, and because he strongly felt that everyone was equal before the law, he decided to take up the offer. Not to do the bidding of AfriForum, but to make a contribution to see that justice was done in South Africa.
Nel thanked AfriForum for affording him this opportunity, something about which he was extremely enthusiastic and excited. He admitted that he initially picked up serious criticism from certain quarters, but as time went by and he had the opportunity to explain his reasons and what exactly he was going to do in numerous high-profile media interviews, the negativity subsided. ‘As a matter of fact, we had applications from all over, from all sections of the South African community from qualified legal people to policemen, who wanted to join our unit to help with what we intend doing. We are getting tremendous positive input from all over, and it is important to remember that we are here to help all sections of the community, irrespective of race or creed, to ensure that the rule of law is upheld in this country’.
Nel explained an important principle of his unit was that it would only take up cases that the State did not want to tackle. These cases would be taken through the same processes as during a normal prosecution by the State…..same judges, same courts, same procedures. If his unit’s prosecution was successful, the State would have to carry the cost, and it would not cost the unit anything. If the State should at a certain stage decide to take over the case, it would then also be liable for the costs. ‘I reiterate, we have no political agenda. All we ask is that the South African public gives us a year to prove what we can do, and then judge us on what we have achieved.’ On corruption in local government, Nel said his unit would love to play a decisive role to root that out, and he invited members of the public to contact his unit or AfriForum with information on critical matters with substantial evidence of wrongdoing that were not taken up by, for instance, the police. He pointed out his unit could only concern itself with criminal matters, and civil cases would have to go through the normal channels.
With reference to corruption, Nel stated many people did not quite understand precisely what the definition of corruption was. There were many explanations and he mentioned a long description of all the aspects of what constituted corruption. ‘It is actually very simple’, he said, ‘if a person or organisation receives benefits, compensation or gratifications in whatever form, from the lowest to the highest level, in exchange for a favour, or any reciprocal action to the benefit of the compensator, even at a much later stage, it is corruption, plain and simple. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there are always more than one person involved. Please don’t for instance make the mistake by offering a traffic policeman a bribe to ignore a speeding fine and then go and lay a charge of corruption against him. You will also be charged, because you are just as guilty.’
Nel discussed several other issues concerning the duties of his unit, and invited people who wanted more clarity, to contact Afriforum. After the meeting the consensus amongst the audience was that despite his tenacity and ‘hardegat’ image in court, and in addition to being well-spoken and dedicated, he is a likeable and humble human being. As one member of the audience said to his wife: ‘Watch that space. This guy means business.’