THE spotlight on the administrative bungles and questionable appointments of President Jacob Zuma has moved to his justice minister, Jeff Radebe, with analysts and opposition parties calling for his head.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside the appointment of controversial advocate Menzi Simelane as head of the National Prosecuting Authority. This was after the Democratic Alliance (DA) had challenged Mr Simelane's appointment, saying he was not a fit and proper person to head the authority. The appointment of the country's chief justice was also not without controversy, with Mr Zuma opting for Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng above a more experienced Judge Dikgang Moseneke.

Mr Zuma's choice to replace Willie Hofmeyr as the head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), Willem Heath, stepped down last week after he made controversial remarks about former president Thabo Mbeki, accusing him of initiating rape and corruption charges against Mr Zuma.

Mr Radebe has now appointed advocate Nomgcobo Jiba as acting head of the unit, a move also being queried by the legal fraternity.

This and the embarrassing bid to extend former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo's term a few months ago has exposed Mr Radebe to criticism, with some saying he is not up to the task of leading the justice ministry.

In a letter in City Press yesterday, Mr Mbeki called for more engagement on the Heath allegations, saying he was prepared to defend himself in any forum.

"Just as much as Heath must substantiate his statements, so too must the rest of us, the accused" respond to the accusations with honesty and openness," he said.

"In the end, it may very well be that the comments made by Heath ... will have helped to lance a virulently poisonous boil on our body politic."

Mr Mbeki described the "boil" as the "shameless propagation of lies by people outside of government to achieve selfish political objectives, or nefarious and disguised actions undertaken by those in positions of power, like me during the period to which Heath refers, fundamentally to betray the interests of the people and negate the objectives spelt out in our constitution, in their personal interest".

"All this dictates that everything should be done to respond to the 'Pandora's box' which Heath opened, with no restrictions."

Once the "Pandora's box" was opened, the issue was not whether Mr Mbeki or Mr Heath emerged as "the victor. The victor should be the truth," said Mr Mbeki.

DA justice spokeswoman Dene Smuts said yesterday that in most instances, it was "a classic case" of Mr Radebe "badly advising" the president.

"However, the buck stops with the president. We can only blame Mr Radebe for not advising the president properly," Ms Smuts said. In the appointments of Mr Heath and Mr Simelane, Mr Radebe was well placed to dissuade the president, but failed to do so.

"I would have thought he would have advised the president against making the appointments. There is, however, a larger political backdrop (in both appointments)," she said.

In an interview on SABC yesterday, Mr Zuma said it was strange for Mr Heath to have attacked Mr Mbeki in the manner he did. "How can this man investigate impartially? I received a letter from Mbeki's lawyer (asking) me to give evidence of what Heath said. I found that strange and responded to the letter to say I have nothing to do with this," Mr Zuma said during the interview.

Mr Radebe has denied culpability, saying Mr Heath's statements were personal and not the view of the government.

Political analyst professor Steven Friedman said yesterday the fact that Mr Heath was a presidential appointment meant that Mr Zuma had to take full responsibility. "It would be ridiculous to suggest that the president may have been misle d (in appointing Mr Heath)," Prof Friedman said.

However, it was hypocritical of the DA to have come out and criticised Mr Heath's appointment only after he had resigned. "I find it interesting that they (the DA) did not go after Heath the same way they went after Simelane."

Mr Zuma's spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said it would not be appropriate to start apportioning blame on the Heath issue.

"The Heath matter is not about apportioning blame on anybody. Adv Heath was correctly appointed and had the right credentials, background, experience and qualifications. He ran the SIU very efficiently in the past.

"He made an error of judgment. He realised his mistake and took responsibility by resigning from the position without much delay. He should be commended for doing so, which he did in order to allow the institution to move forward. We should now be forward looking, and work together to support the SIU in doing its work," Mr Maharaj said.

With Sam Mkokeli

phakathib@bdfm.co.za