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Poor Ismail Ayob

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Poor Ismail Ayob. Even if he wins, he loses -- because his opponent is Nelson Mandela. And so Mandela's court case against his former lawyer Ayob, who he accuses of abusing his name for commercial purposes, is as good as decided, at least, in the public mind. As an attorney, Ayob depends on his professional reputation to stay afloat.

Poor Ismail Ayob. Even if he wins, he loses—because his opponent is Nelson Mandela.

And so Mandela’s court case against his former lawyer Ayob, who he accuses of abusing his name for commercial purposes, is as good as decided, at least, in the public mind.

As an attorney, Ayob depends on his professional reputation to stay afloat. Anything that suggests he is not a “fit and proper person” means he is history. So he must vigorously defend himself against accusations levelled by Mandela, through his lawyers George Bizos and Bally Chuene.

Among these accusations are claims that he sold Mandela’s art works without permission and ignored his instructions to draw up a will.

By doing exactly what Mandela did—parading what he deems to be the ex-president’s shortcomings in public—Ayob may have destroyed the standing he has enjoyed for years.

Insulting Mandela has become a form of lese-majesty. If he accuses his accuser of being mistaken or of having base motives, he is impertinent.

Ayob must deal not only with the factual allegations against him; he must contend with what amounts to a trial by proxy. This is a sad state of affairs when, in a democracy supposedly based on the rule of law, some citizens apparently cannot be challenged in court. It smacks of the Mswati-fication of our legal process. For it is in Swaziland that taking King Mswati to court is a futile exercise.

As part of the offensive, prominent Indian politicians and businessmen, including Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada, former Cabinet minister Jay Naidoo and Durban businessman Omar Motani, have been on a roadshow aimed at the Indian community.

Pahad et al allegedly want to show that Mandela’s actions do not reflect the former president’s attitude to Indians, and insist that Mandela did not authorise their campaign. One of their tactics has been to smear Ayob, who claims that at the meetings he has been called a crook who should be jailed. In his court papers, Ayob also claims that Pahad used intimidatory tactics.

It is an exercise in character assassination. Pahad and his cohorts know that because of their standing, and a sympathetic media, they are guaranteed column space.

And the suggestion that Indians might read Mandela’s court challenge to Ayob as a racial vendetta seems entirely spurious.

Conveniently, it is forgotten that it was Mandela and not Ayob who chose the battleground—the courts. Having opted for litigation, he bound himself to certain rules. Among these is that everyone is equal before the law, and that the party with the best argument wins.

Indeed, Mandela should expect to be put on a witness stand and grilled on his allegations.

It is one thing to ask people not to insult their heroes. But it is quite unrealistic to expect someone to roll over when his reputation is threatened.

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