Days before he came to The Huffington Post South Africa's office in Johannesburg, advocate Gerrie Nel was a senior prosecutor working for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the department of justice, under the Constitution and working to uphold the rule of law.
Now, he is a private prosecutor for AfriForum, a political organisation championing Afrikaner rights, that opposes affirmative action and believes Afrikaners are facing the prospect of becoming "second-class citizens" in their own country.
I have never had a political motive or mandate, I don't have one now and I'm not interested in developing oneGerrie Nel
Nel has had a stellar career in litigating the law of the land -– he was part of the team that convicted Chris Hani's murderers, right-wingers Clive Derby-Lewis and Janus Walusz, he famously tore apart corrupt police commissioner Jackie Selebi and reduced Paralympian Oscar Pistorius to vomiting in a bucket.
There is no doubt Nel is a committed officer of the court with a singular loyalty to the law, which he upholds to the exclusion of all other influences. AfriForum, with a membership of around 186 000, however has very specific and narrow political views.
Nel said in his interview with HuffPost he has never been politically minded and has never had political motives or prosecuted with a political mandate.
"I have never had a political motive or mandate, I don't have one now and I'm not interested in developing one," he said.
Look, my integrity is not for sale. My integrity as a prosecutor, looking at the facts, is definitely not for sale.Nel
It is clear Nel knew questions about his move to a factional and ideologically driven organisation like AfriForum would be asked. When pushed about his views on his new employer, Nel said he considered these questions fully. "I thought about this and about perceptions that might arise, and I convinced myself that my integrity profile will not disappear overnight. Look, my integrity is not for sale. My integrity as a prosecutor, looking at the facts, is definitely not for sale."
It's difficult to question somebody with a track-record in public service like Nel's, especially when he looks you straight in the eye and puts it back to you.
Still, his departure from the NPA, where political cancer has metastasised to every single corner of the institution, to AfriForum, an active and partisan political organisation, does raise questions. Does he agree with their policy on land reform, for example? Or their beliefs around farm murders or equal opportunity employment? Or their views on apartheid and self-determination?
I know they pursue matters that are important to Afrikaans people and Afrikaans, as far as that is concerned they're doing a very good job . . . in pursuing that.Nel
That's important, because when he was at the department of justice he believed in the institution's ethos and mandate, its vision of what it wanted to achieve. Surely, he must have thought about it when he signed on the dotted line?
"You see ... uhm ... I'm not really qualified to say because I don't know what their mandate is, or the whole of their mandate," Nel, becoming lightly agitated, replied. "I know they pursue matters that are important to Afrikaans people and Afrikaans, as far as that is concerned they're doing a very good job ... in pursuing that."
Nel argued that Kallie Kriel, AfriForum's chief executive and his colleagues, never asked him about his political views or his allegiances and stressed that he will not be beholden to specific political interests.
As prosecutor he could, in theory and nominally, try to isolate himself from political interference and seek refuge in the law and stated aims of the NPA and department of justice.
He added "AfriForum also does not have a political motive" and that "I don't want to deal with poltical issues".
His new employers' stated aims are to create an own environment within which Afrikaners' can seek refuge. This is a political philosophy and is enforced by comments such as those by Flip Buys, chairperson of AfriForum's motherbody, the Solidarity Movement, who said "Afrikaners face the prospect of becoming second-class citizens".
But Nel still insisted he does not have a view on this, even though he will now be espousing and living the views of the organisation that he works for. "That's a political question and I'm not a political animal, certainly Mister Kallie Kriel and Mister Buys would much more qualified than I to answer the question. In making the decision (to join AfriForum) I was just so excited about I can do, to see justice done in the criminal justice system."
He added that he does not have a political view of his new posting, nor does he have any views on AfriForum's politics. Nel argues his new "office" -– seemingly equating it to the office of a senior member of the prosecuting authority –- will not be influenced unduly and will not have a political agenda or brief.
"I never have and never will pursue a political agenda. In making a decision about criminal matters one should never have a political agenda, and I don't," he said
He added "AfriForum also does not have a political motive" and that "I don't want to deal with political issues".
Oscar Pistorius's nemesis reiterated that he and his new colleagues should be given a chance to show their mettle and prove their worth. He conceded private prosecutions would be difficult, but that he believes it could be done.
In that, godspeed.
But when Kriel, Buys or their affiliates speak about race, democracy or black privilege, they speak for all of their employees and members. And that now includes advocate Gerrie Nel.
Here's the full interview:Suggest a correction