Don Makatile. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng
Don Makatile. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng

Pretorius has the ear of Zondo

By Don Makatile Time of article published Jul 20, 2021

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I often look at Paul Pretorius, head of the legal team at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, otherwise known as the Zondo Commission, and marvel at his mild deportment.

For someone with verifiable Struggle credentials, he is without airs and graces. His bio says he was admitted as an advocate in 1977 and took silk in 1994.

The seemingly affable Pretorius was hewn out of the old all-white National Union of South African Students (Nusas) that, though well-meaning, earned the ire of Steve Bantu Biko who lamented that, to paraphrase him, often a lot is said about us, for us, but without us.

Subsequently, in December 1968, a cohort of black students staged a walkout from a Nusas gathering, to later form Saso, the South African Students Organisation, which would be the incubator of the Black Consciousness philosophy, led by the self-same Biko.

Pretorius was one of the eight Nusas leaders that were banned in February 1973 for effectively being “k*****boeties”.The Apartheid authorities then appointed a commission of inquiry headed by Alwyn L Schlebusch to investigate the organisation's activities.

“The Schlebusch Commission Report, as it came to be known, resulted in the banning of eight Nusas leaders and ex-Nusas leaders on February 27, 1973. Those banned were Neville Curtis, Clive Keegan, Paul Pretorius, Sheila Lapinsky, Rick Turner (a lecturer), Paula Ensor, Chris Wood, and Philip le Roux. “

I’m not sure if Biko had ever crossed paths with master-spy Craig Wiliamson. Dying in 1977, he certainly did not live long enough to see Williamson exposed for the scum he was. His misgivings about Nusas would have been vindicated.

Williamson registered at Wits University in 1972 where he swiftly joined Nusas. In no time he was elected vice-president of the student body. Pretorius and his pals at Nusas couldn’t smell a rat when Williamson moved to Cape Town to ostensibly carry out work as the national finance officer for the students’ organisation.

Archives indicate that in January 1977, when his career in student politics came to an abrupt end, he fled the country and from Europe continued his “anti-apartheid work”.

Of course, it will be unfair to paint the whole Nusas with the same brush because of one rotten apple. Williamson later applied for amnesty for the murder of svelte Communist and anti-apartheid activist Ruth First.

Back to Pretorius.

On November 28, 1973, maverick Afrikaner and friend of the freedom Struggle Reverend Dr Beyers Naude, “together with Peter Randall and Danie van Zyl were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act in their capacities as founders and directors of Ravan Press for allowing the publication of utterances by a banned person, Paul Pretorius, one of the eight Nusas leaders”.

“The publication in question, a Nusas dossier on unlawful police operations on university campuses, had already been in print and in the hands of the distributors days before Paul Pretorius was banned.”

O Oon Bey was at the time executive director of the Christian Institute, more than Nusas, another white thorn on the side of the apartheid authorities.

On November 16, 1973 Naude was found guilty under the Commission Act for refusing to testify before the Schlebusch Commission and was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment which was suspended for three years.

Now, I sometimes wish O could be the proverbial fly on the wall, listening in on the private conversations between Pretorius and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, chairperson of the State Capture Commission.

I suspect that Pretorius has the ear of Justice Zondo. The two must have each other on speed dial. Among their myriad conversations could perhaps be one on the most appropriate sentence for those who refuse to appear before a legally constituted Commission of Inquiry.

If that conversation was had, it is unlikely that Professor Itumeleng Mosala, secretary of the commission, would have issued the following statement “at the instance of the chairperson”.

“1. The commission welcomes the judgment of the Constitutional Court which found Mr [Jacob] Zuma guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to a 15 months’ term of imprisonment for his defiance of the order of the Constitutional Court that he should comply with summonses issued by the commission and appear before the commission. 2. The commission views the judgment as one of great importance for the rule of law, the principle of equality before the law, the primacy of our Constitution and the protection of our constitutional democracy. 3. The judgment is also significant for the independence of our judiciary. In the commission’s view the judgment sends a profoundly important message to all in our country that there are serious consequences for anyone who defies summonses and orders of courts and that such conduct will not be tolerated, no matter what the person’s status is in society. 2 4. The commission will continue with its work in the knowledge that the highest court in the land has made it clear that summonses issued by the commission must be complied with and orders of courts must be obeyed.”

Pretorius knows what fate befell Oom Bey for refusing to testify.

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