On the wild frontier where law meets politics, advocate Anton Ackermann SC appears to be a Lone Ranger.
This week, in a landmark international criminal law case being heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Ackermann stunned the legal fraternity — and his bosses in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) — by filing his responding affidavit with the applicants, despite being the second respondent in the matter. According to his affidavit, he did this to get his views aired.
He claimed they differed from those of the NPA and its head, Menzi Simelane, who was placed on special leave last year, and his attempts to have them made known through the prosecuting authority’s papers had been thwarted for two years.
The Southern African Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum are seeking a judicial review of the South African police’s decision not to investigate torture claims made against Zimbabwean officials following raids on the Movement for Democratic Change’s offices in 2007.
Ackermann is head of the NPA’s priority crimes litigation unit, which is tasked with directing the investigation and prosecution of crimes that fall under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, which includes the application.
Prone to independent behaviour
This is not the first time that Ackermann has displayed such independence. In a 1998 letter of recommendation by George Bizos SC, he was commended for acting “courageously” during a 1976-1977 inquest that investigated the police’s role in the murder of activist Jabu Vilakazi.
Bizos also observed “he has continued to behave in an objective and proper manner”.
At the time, Bizos was acting for Vilakazi’s family and Ackermann was the prosecutor leading evidence for the state.
Bizos said: “It was customary during that period for prosecutors to defend the police, irrespective of the weight of evidence against them.
“To our surprise, Mr Ackermann’s objectivity was demonstrated by submitting that the members of the Brixton murder and robbery unit were criminally responsible for the death of the deceased.
“This was a breath of fresh air and gave one hope that, despite the pressures that must have existed on a comparatively junior member of the profession, he courageously and correctly submitted what he believed to be in accordance with his oath of office.” The magistrate found in favour of the Vilakazi family.
Bizos said: “I have always singled him out as the outstanding exception among those who thought that protecting the police was more important than serving justice.”
Asked whether Ackermann would be censured, NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said: “The NPA is still reflecting on the impact of his affidavit and will decide what action to take against him in due course.”