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Who Is Gerrie Nel?

He is respected for more than just the Oscar Pistorius trial. Here's why the NPA has lost a brilliant and needed prosecutor with Gerrie Nel's resignation.

31/01/2017 11:46 SAST | Updated 31/01/2017 15:50 SAST

Top state prosecutor Gerrie Nel's shock resignation on Tuesday morning left many South Africans reeling.

Nicknamed "The Bulldog", Nel has a formidable reputation. He was the former head of the now defunct Scorpions in Gauteng and has 35 years of experience under his belt.

While someone with his legal talent could have enjoyed a stellar and lucrative career at a private law firm, Nel has made a career out of arguing on behalf of the state for the National Prosecuting Authority, dedicating his career to bringing criminals to justice.

In a surprise move he left the NPA to head up a private prosecutions unit for Afrikaner civil rights organisation AfriForum, the organisation confirmed shortly after the news of his resignation broke.

Global fame

He shot to global fame in 2014 as the lead prosecutor in Oscar Pistorius's murder trial. The trial made global headlines after the athlete shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Nel's trademark no-nonsense style of questioning won him legions of fans.

Pistorius was originally sentenced to five years for culpable homicide, but the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the verdict in December 2016, and ordered that he be sentenced for murder; he was subsequently sentenced to six years.

The BBC has called Nel "one of South Africa's most respected legal minds". In a round-up of key-players in the Pistorius trial the BBC said:

With more than 30 years' experience he has a string of successful prosecutions under his belt and is no stranger to high-profile cases. He prosecuted former police boss and Interpol's ex-head Jackie Selebi on corruption charges, once calling him an "arrogant liar" during cross examination.

Those who know him praise his meticulous attention to detail and his "fearlessness". He was junior prosecutor in the murder case of anti-apartheid activist Chris Hani in 1993.

He was also the founding head in 1999 of the Gauteng province division of South Africa's elite police and prosecution unit the Hawks, then known as the Scorpions.

Nel has long been a thorn in the side of the corrupt.

He led the Scorpions' Operation Bad Guys investigation into Selebi and the late mining magnate Brett Kebble, News24 reported. Nel received an international prosecutors' award for his successful prosecution of Selebi, who also headed Interpol, on charges of corruption.

Target

His work, however, has made him a target — even within his own unit.

In 2008 Nel was arrested on trumped-up fraud charges while pursuing Selebi, and spent a night in the police cells. It later emerged that suspended deputy NPA head, Nomgcobo Jiba, was instrumental in securing an arrest warrant against Nel, according to News24.

In 2011 City Press reported that Jiba's hostility against Nel was caused by his involvement in a fraud case against her husband, Booker Nhantsi.

He has had something of a long-running enmity with Jiba and fell foul of a particularly politicised faction within the NPA under Shaun Abrahams. He was reportedly being targeted by controversial Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza, who was understood to be implicating Nel in the controversy over the alleged "rogue" unit at the South African Revenue Service.

He would have become understandably frustrated at the beleaguered NPA as various political interests and factions have dragged the organisation down.

Wrestler of note

In his spare time Nel, perhaps rather appropriately, is something of an amateur wrestler. He has taught kids the sport in the evenings. "He has endless patience and never loses his temper. The children love him," the mother of one of the boys who received lessons told Rapport once.

His focus and attention to detail is legendary. He arrives at work before 6am and does not socialise with colleagues, Rapport reported.

"He is scared of nothing and nobody," an unnamed co-worker told Rapport.

"He is merciless, extremely prepared and focuses on the tiniest detail. Once he smells blood he does not stop."

His immediate resignation after 35 years' service, five years away from retirement, will send shockwaves through the beleaguered NPA, which has had four heads in the past decade, News24 reported.

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