A FEW months ago I made reference to how the former national director of public prosecutions, highly respected Advocate Vusi Pikoli, was first suspended from his position by former president Thabo Mbeki for trying to do his job without fear or favour, as the law obliged him to do.
For those who do not recall any of this, Advocate Pikoli had been warning the president about the worrisome ties between the then commissioner of police, the late Jackie Selebi, and one Glenn Agliotti, at the time a suspected drug dealer, who was later convicted of the crime.
As a matter of courtesy and, I imagine, respect for the president, Pikoli took the extraordinary step not obliged by law to prepare the president for the planned arrest of his friend. The police commissioner was often referred to as a friend of the president.
The president is said to have tried several times to stop Pikoli from going ahead with the arrest, ostensibly to either shield his friend or delay the inevitable. It was reported at the time that he also used his then minister of justice and constitutional development Brigitte Mabandla to keep stalling Pikoli from carrying out the arrest.
When Pikoli’s persistence began to annoy the president and the arrest of the police commissioner became imminent, Mbeki summarily suspended Pikoli from his position. Pikoli’s hopes of returning to his position were raised, but only for a short period, when Mbeki’s chickens came home to roost and he, in turn, was summarily removed from office following his defeat in Polokwane.
What Pikoli had failed to foresee at the time was that the seriousness with which he regarded his position would work against him when the new leaders took over. They too had someone they needed protected from the long arm of the law, and needed assurance that Pikoli would not go after him if reinstated. Reportedly, Pikoli refused to provide the guarantees asked of him by several emissaries of the new leaders.
It is now common cause that fearful of what would happen if Pikoli were given his job back, interim president Kgalema Motlanthe fired him. This is despite the fact that Pikoli had been declared fit and proper by the Frene Ginwala Commission to hold the position of national director of public prosecutions.
It is said in West Africa that he who offers his head to be used to break the coconut never gets to drink of its milk. There are many such people in South Africa; many Pikolis who either dared to speak out against wrongdoing or who refused to do wrong even when pressured, preferring instead to uphold the requirements of the office they held or to be lone voices that spoke truth to those in power.
There are former CEOs, directors general, senior managers and other professionals who are languishing at home and in the shadows after having been ejected by a system that put other interests ahead of country, constitution and people.
Their skills remain unused because they stuck to their principles. Our own history provides ample examples of such people, selfless people without whom we would not have come as far as we have.
Much to hide and shield when the stakes are high
In three years’ time, our country will elect its next government. The political arena leading to that milestone has been turned into a cacophonous zoo of hopefuls and fearfuls. The former are overzealous and eager to show that they have something new to offer – a new way, a fresh start; and the latter have a great deal to lose and have, as a result, become dangerous.
They will do anything to hold on to long-held privileges they now feel gradually slipping from their desperate grip. To win, they will destroy people and reputations, and they will grow our community of Pikolis, those who get cast aside for wanting to do right, for speaking truth to those in power, and for putting the country and its institutions ahead of everything else.
Witch hunters are out for a kill
Senior managers in government departments and politically connected business owners reliant on government largesse get called in the stillness of the night and told who to employ, who to fire, who to do business with and who to throw to the dogs.
It is in such a climate that brother turns against brother, sister against sister and son against father; others, fearful of losing their miserable daily bread, watch silently from the sidelines, afraid to utter a word even when they know they should. We’re going through the best of times; the worst of times.
But even as our community of those who offered their heads to break the coconut continues to grow, there is hope that we shall overcome. The sun will rise again, as it always does.
If we all keep quiet, afraid to say anything, we shall one day wake up in Matebeleland and wonder how we got there, pretending not to have seen the signs. But they are all around us.
It is a lonely, treacherous, journey.