Heath a liability in Zuma's campaign for re-election
The Times Editorial: Comments by Willem Heath, newly rehired to lead the Special Investigating Unit, have had the unintended consequence of rousing the ire of former president Thabo Mbeki.
It must certainly have stung when, in an interview with City Press, Heath accused Mbeki of having engineered the rape and corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma. He also insinuated that there had been other instances of state interference.
But yesterday Mbeki's office took the fight right back to Zuma, who reappointed Heath just over a week ago.
"The legal representative of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation has today formally approached the government to provide evidence of all the allegations made by advocate Heath," the statement read.
It said that Mbeki had stayed out of domestic politics since his departure from office, implying that Heath had gone too far for Mbeki to remain silent.
It is clear that Zuma felt the need to distance himself from Heath's comments. In a radio interview on Wednesday he said he would seek the advice of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on the Heath interview.
But the damage appears to have been done - the time for Zuma to act is now.
Heath is Zuma's man - he stood with the president during his two legal battles - and his appointment was seen as a reward for his loyalty.
Zuma cannot be seen to acquiesce with Heath's statements - certainly not in the light of the disciplining of Julius Malema and his ANC Youth League cohorts for their public utterances. Heath, whose comments made him appear to be an embittered old man, would certainly have caused consternation among ANC leaders.
The key question is whether Zuma, with his campaign for re-election as president of the ANC ahead of him, can afford to retain the outspoken Heath.