IN an interview with retired Constitutional Court Justice Zakaria Mohammed “Zak” Yacoob, African Times editor Piet Rampedi asks about his behind-the-scenes-role in relation to the SARS rogue unit. He admits to contacting unit investigator Adv. Muzi Sikhakhane – before the report was made public – to discuss his findings that the intelligence unit was unlawful. However, Justice Yacoob — who labels Rampedi a “bloody idiot”, “nosy parker”, a “coward” and “a liar” out to “cause shit” for pursuing the matter – denies he was acting on behalf of his close friends, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay. This was after allegations surfaced that the retired Justice had been a player in the controversial matter behind the scenes. Justice Yacoob concedes that he had advised Pillay on how to handle Adv. Sikhakhane’s damning findings against him. Rampedi had conducted the interview with Justice Yacoob on March 5, 2016, as part of his SARS rogue unit probe while working for Sunday Times, but his former employers refused to publish the story and others, resulting in his resignation in protest.
PR: I need to talk to you regarding allegations that you tried to contact Adv Sikhakhane to secure a meeting to talk about his report?
ZY: When did I contact him and where did you get that information from?
PR: We have spoken to people who have seen your SMS exchanges with him in January last year and again in April.
ZY: No, it’s rubbish. I may have wanted to talk to him personally about it, not tried not contact him in any capacity and its rubbish. It’s rubbish for any of you to look into my SMSes and draw any conclusions from that. What I talk to Sikhakhane is my damn business and not yours. So, will you please stop this rubbish of yours? Will you please stop this journalistic rubbish of yours? Please print what I have said. Stop your journalistic rubbish. You have no business what I say to mister Sikhakhane. We are colleagues at different levels. It’s our business. It has got nothing to do with you and you must stop this. Will you please print that? Will you please print that?
PR: In what capacity were you contacting him?
ZY: It’s not your bloody business. What has that got to do with you? It’s my personal business, if I contact him, if I want to talk to people about things. What the hell does it have to do with you nosy parkers?
PR: No, but…
ZY: Please explain to me you idiot? You are a damn idiot. No, no, no. Don’t be idiotic to me. Explain to me what the hell has it got to do with you that I contacted Sikhakhane. Why are you daring my personal life and who I contact and asking me why I contact Sikhakhane. That’s my business. How dare you? Explain to me how dare you, you bloody idiot?
PR: And were you…
ZY: How dare you? You bloody idiot? How dare you?
PR: No, I understand that. But were you representing Mr Pillay? Were you trying to arrange a meeting on behalf of Mr Pillay?
ZY: (interjects) Will you please say sorry Mr. Idiot? Hey, you idiot? Mr Idiot, don’t you understand me? Are you going to say sorry or not?
PR: I just want to understand who were you representing?
ZY: No, no, no. You are such a… that’s not your bloody business. Even if I refuse to answer that question, your interrogatory, whether I was representing Ivan Pillay, Pravin Gordhan or God, or some other newspaper or the devil, have got nothing to do with you. Do you understand? Do you understand that?
PR: At that point…
ZY: (interjects) Answer my bloody question, you idiot. Do you understand that or not?
PR: You don’t have to be that aggressive.
ZY: Idiot, do you understand that. Answer my question? Do you understand me? Do you understand me?
PR: No, I don’t…
ZY: So, you are really an idiot! You are a bigger idiot that I thought, if you don’t understand that who I send SMSes to is my business. I am not going to be drawn into the public domain your desire to cause mischief. It’s your desire to cause mischief. I am not going to be drawn into it. Do you understand that at least?
PR: No, no, no. I don’t. That’s why I am asking all these questions? To say, were you representing anybody or you were just on a frolic of your own?
ZY: But why is this your business?
PR: Because it is alleged that it was improper?
ZY: Who alleges that?
PR: People who have seen the SMSes are saying you weren’t supposed to be calling him (Adv. Sikhakhane) because at the time he was busy with a report which had yet to be released to the public?
ZY: Sorry? What are people saying? Will you send me a written account or not? Send me a comprehensible question, which does not reflect your idiocy and which sets out the facts properly and appropriately so that I can respond appropriately and properly. Tell me who said what and why, and precisely what’s your investigation so that you don’t sound incoherent like you do now, and I will try and answer – try and set out the facts properly. Do you understand?
PR: No, no, I understand Mr Yacoob
ZY: I don’t think you do actually. You sound too stupid to understand. But never mind.
PR: But you don’t have to insult me. Why are you insulting me now?
ZY: Because when people are stupid I call them stupid. If I am stupid you must call me stupid. That’s not insulting, it’s just stating fact and an opinion. If you are a stupid, I would say you are a stupid. If I am a stupid, you can tell me I am a stupid, I call a spade a spade. I don’t fool around. Do you understand?
PR: Yes. And have a lovely day.
ZY: Why should I have a lovey day? Do you really mean that? You don’t much care what day I have. Do you? Don’t talk nonsense to me. Do you care whether I have a lovely day or not? Do you really care if I die tonight? You don’t care. So, don’t do nonsense with me. You don’t care whether I have a lovely day?
PR: Yes, I do.
PR: Because you are a retired ConCourt Judge.
ZY: So what? And you guys want to delve into my personal emails and cause rubbish or SMSes or whatever they are, which you don’t have business to have and cause shit on it. Hmmm! Is that your approach? Is that how you cause shit these days?
PR: No, its fine Mr Yacoob, have a lovely day.
ZY: No, no, no. It’s not fine. Don’t lie again. Just be straight to me man. It’s not fine. Don’t lie.
PR: If you say it’s not fine, then it’s up to you?
ZY: What’s fine? Tell me? What’s fine?
PR: Our conversation was fine.
ZY: What was fine about our conversation?
PR: What you have explained to me, because I was asking you questions and you have answered me
ZY: No, no, no. I have not answered you. Don’t lie. I have not answered you? Did I? I don’t even understand your question. Ok. Let’s start again. Tell me, quietly, whose message have you seen, saying what, what precisely is your concern and what precisely is the focus of your story?
PR: Mr Yacoob, I have asked you questions, you have answered and I am fine?
ZY: No, no, you have not asked me. I see you are getting complicated now. But that’s fine. You can get complicated. I hope you have got this telephone call recorded. Have you got this telephone call recorded?
PR: Can we end this conversation because…
ZY: Have you got this telephone call recorded, because want a recording of it, and I want to compare it with the editing you are going to print on Sunday?
PR: I have got it recorded. It’s fine.
ZY: Send me a copy of the recording. Can you send me a copy of the recording please?
PR: Mr Yacoob. Thanks very much
ZY: Can you send me a copy of this call?
PR: Look, I am not sure whether we are getting anywhere with this?
ZY: Can you send me a copy of this call? No, no. You see I am very upset because of the way you approach these things. I think you have no business to telephone me in the first place and I would like you to send me a copy of this recording. Because I am sure you will write something on Sunday, and if you write something on this conversation on Sunday I want to have something to dispute it and to have a recording. That’s a fair request, isn’t it?
PR: No, no, we will cross that bridge when we get there
ZY: Why is that a bridge?
PR: Thank you so much Mr Yacoob.
ZY: Why is it a bridge? Why is it a bridge?
PR: Do you still want to add anything to this conversation?
ZY: You can’t, I have asked you to send me a recording?
PR: I will decide.
ZY: By when will you decide?
PR: It’s up to me. Can we end this conversation?
ZY: Why do you want to end it? Because you are not getting your way?
PR: No, because you are not answering the questions and that’s fine.
ZY: Why am I obliged to answer your questions?
PR: You are not obliged. It’s out of journalistic ethics for me to contact you?
ZY: So, I see you are doing it out of ethics. Alright. Ethics for what? You get hold of SMSes, saying what?
PR: Saying whatever you said to Adv Sikhakhane.
ZY: You get hold of SMSes saying what?
PR: Saying whatever you said to Adv. Sikhakhane.
ZY: What did I say? I don’t know?
PR: What did you say to him?
ZY: What SMSes? I don’t remember the SMSes I sent? I am just upset that you have them. But what do the SMSes say?
PR: Yeah, no. Mr Yacoob, can we just end this?
ZY: You can’t start a call when you want to and end it when you want to? You keep through it man. Don’t be a coward.
PR: Ok. Did you send him a message on January 8 requesting a meeting to discuss his report?
ZY: Did I send an SMS to whom?
PR: To Adv Sikhakhane on January 8 last year. Did you send that SMS? And if so, who were you representing?
ZY: No, no, no. Firstly, I was representing nobody. Secondly, when I read the contents of the report, and read indications of what the report had said, I may well have written SMSes to him or phoned him to chat to him about it. I would have phoned to chat to him about it because I would have had nothing to do with Ivan. I was just shocked at the allegations and the findings that the unit was unlawful. And I just wanted to chat to him about it. Exactly what did you see? Tell me?
PR: No, no. I am asking you. I mean you’d know what you said?
ZY: No, no. I may have sent it to him because these reports, I talk to him about in my personal capacity. I can’t remember exactly what I did when? If you have seen my SMS, tell me what I said? You have got to me fair with me and tell me what my SMS said. If you want me to comment on it.
PR: No, no, I just explained to you. You wanted to discuss this report with him?
ZY: I did discuss the report with him. But that was in my personal capacity. I was not mandated by anybody to do anything. What makes you think I was representing Ivan Pillay by the way?
PR: I have been told by people who say they were told that you were representing Ivan?
ZY: So, now you want to check whether I was representing Ivan or not. Firstly, I hold Ivan in a very high esteem. I hold Mr Sikhakhane in very high esteem. Ivan is a very good friend of mine. Sikhakhane is also a very good friend of mine. Once Sikhakhane had made the report, I wouldn’t do anything at all to try to get him to change the report on behalf of anybody, because he made the report, he had done it and on that is basically it. And there was no point in talking to him about the contents of the report because it had been done and he may or may not have changed it at all, and therefore, there was nothing that could have been done. No, I wouldn’t have discussed, because I know him well, I would have discussed the report with him because I would have been shocked myself by what I saw of the things that the report had said.
PR: I understand he actually fought with you over the phone and said he felt betrayed? I understand he told you he felt betrayed that you were resorting to racial superiority complex where you wanted to protect whites and Indians implicated in the report at the expense of blacks?
ZY: Nothing of that sort. We, and i, have not had a fight at all and we have not been upset with each other at all?
PR: When last did you talk to him?
ZY: Sometime ago. I can’t remember how long ago. But I hold him in extremely high esteem. I can’t remember when last I saw him. It’s not as though we meet each other every day. But I have extreme respect for him. And we have no contentions about any debate in relation to anything at all.
PR: What is your relationship with the minister, Gordhan?
ZY: Everybody knows that Pravin and I have known each other from the days of the underground and we have extremely close relations with each other. And in my view, Pravin Gordhan is an extremely honourable man.
PR: And Pillay? How do you know him?
ZY: I know Pillay also from the underground of the ANC. And I don’t know him as well as I know the minister. He’s not a good friend of mine as he is of the minister. But I get on very well with him.
PR: Would you like to add anything in relation to these accusations?
ZY: I would never have phoned Mr Sikhakhane as a result of what Ivan said to me. But, I want to say this: If Ivan asked me for advice on what he should do arising out of allegations in the report I would have given him that advice.
PR: Thanks very much.
ZY: Tell me where did you get my SMSes?
PR: I will tell you the day I meet you. It’s fine.
ZY: Tell me now. You can’t get information. It’s not a one way track my man.
PR: No, I can’t tell you.
ZY: It’s a small world. I am gonna need you one day, you gonna need me one day. So, tell me where you got these SMSes of mine. Is it from my phone?
PR: Come again?
ZY: Where did you get my SMS from? Are you guys tapping telephones now or what?
PR: No, we are not. We don’t do that
ZY: So, how did you get it? You see the only way you could have gotten my SMS was if Mr. Sikhakhane gave you. So, I am gonna phone him and ask him what SMSes he sent, what the story is and I reserve the right after talking to him about this phone call to lay a complaint wherever I need to and to write a note and to write a statement about it, because I don’t like this nonsense. I am gonna phone him now and talk to him.
PR: Good luck in your discussion with him and all the best.
ZY: No, I don’t need any luck. I don’t need luck at all. But, tell me, where did you get my SMS?
PR: I can’t reveal my sources. It’s fine.
ZY: You can’t reveal your sources? It’s okay. So, but you did see my SMS alright?
PR: Yeah, I have seen them.
ZY: And you knew it was unlawful? You knew it was unlawful to be looking at my SMS, right? That it must have been illegally obtained, right?
PR: It’s fine Mr Yacoob!
ZY: No, no. Did you know it was unlawful?
PR: To do what?
ZY: To look at my SMS?
PR: No, it’s unlawful to tap into your phone, not to see your SMS.
ZY: So, if somebody gets an SMS and shows it to you illegally, you can look at it? Is that your understanding of the law?
ZY: As long as you don’t do it yourself, if other people get it illegally to you, you can do what you like with it? Is that your morality? Is that your journalistic morality?
PR: Yeah, Mr Yacoob, thank you so much. I need to finish my..
ZY: No, no, no. You can’t start this conversation when you like and end it when you like.
PR: No, I am actually busy with the story.
ZY: I was busy too. You are not the only fellow who is busy. Just tell me, so somebody showed you the SMS and you knew it was unlawfully obtained?
PR: No, I don’t know
ZY: Did you think it was lawfully obtained?
PR: I didn’t even ask
ZY: If I showed you some cocaine now, you will know it was unlawfully obtained, isn’t it, without asking me?
PR: I wouldn’t know
ZY: How can I lawfully obtain cocaine?
PR: But you just said earlier that I was a fool. How can a fool understand that kind of thing?
ZY: You must have known that my SMS, to which you have recourse was unlawfully obtained? Right?
PR: But you said I was a fool. How would a fool understand those kind of things?
ZY: Oh no, no. I don’t think you are that much of a fool. I think that you pretend to be a fool sometimes when it suits you, and that is what you were doing. This was a very interestingly orchestrated phone call by you. I was stupid enough not to see. It was a delightful fishing expedition. An improper fishing expedition. That’s why you see, journalists must learn to be honest. You know what I mean? So, tell me honestly, did you see the actual SMS?
PR: I said yes.
ZY: What exactly did it say?
PR: I have answered that question. Thank you so much.
ZY: Tell me exactly what it said. Did you see it on someone’s phone or what?
PR: I can’t answer those questions. Thank you so much.
ZY: Why not? Because if you were unlawfully into my SMS, you are looking down a barrel my man. The proceedings will start soon. I know because you will lie your way out of it, won’t you?
PR: Thank you so much.
ZY: Won’t you lie your way out of it, or you will tell the truth?
PR: No, I will talk the truth.
ZY: But you will say ‘ I can’t disclose my sources’?
PR: No, thank you so much Mr Yacoob.
ZY: No, I am trying to work out what this is all about, you see
PR: Thank you so much. I am gonna have to file a story now.